Small Broadband Providers Urge FCC to Leave Them Out of Some Net Neutrality Rules

Trade groups argue their members are too small to engage in anti-competitive behavior.

Small Broadband Providers Urge FCC to Leave Them Out of Some Net Neutrality Rules
Screenshot of Shirley Bloomfield, NTCA CEO.

WASHINGTON, October 16, 2023 – Small, rural, and fixed wireless broadband providers are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to distinguish between them and large internet carriers in proposed net neutrality rules.

The FCC announced last month a proposal to reinstate the rules, which were in place for two years before being repealed by a commission under Republican Ajit Pai in 2017. The move would classify broadband as a ‘common carrier’ service under the Communications Act of 1934.

That brings a host of more stringent regulations, akin to those governing telecommunications companies like voice providers. This includes restrictions on speeding up or slowing down internet traffic to favor certain websites.

Two trade groups – WISPA, which represents small and fixed wireless providers, and NTCA, which represents rural broadband providers – have each met with staff from all five FCC commissioners’ offices to voice concerns about those regulations.

Both groups say their members lack the “market power” to engage in the anti-competitive behavior that net neutrality rules are designed to prevent. They are too small, the groups argue, to negotiate with tech giants on fees for faster speeds to their sites.

NTCA highlighted what called “the far-fetched nature of any notion that small rural ISPs offering retail broadband service somehow possesses the market power to extract concessions” from internet companies or other network operators.

“If anything,” the association wrote in an October 12 filing with the FCC, “market power likely often resides on the other side of those interconnection points.”

The group urged the FCC to seek comment on where exactly the potential for market manipulation exists in the broadband ecosystem, and to target regulation accordingly.

WISPA highlighted the small size of its members. “The vast majority of WISPA’s members have 10 or fewer employees,” the group wrote in another October 12 filing.

That small size would make compliance requirements under net neutrality rules excessively burdensome, WISPA argued in the filing.

As it did in 2015, the commission would choose not to apply 27 of the most onerous common carrier regulations to broadband providers, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said when announcing the new proposal.

WISPA pushed the commission to seek comment on leaving out other requirements that it said would be too burdensome for its members to comply with.

The FCC will vote on the proposal at its open meeting on Thursday. If approved, the measure will be put up for public comment.

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