FCC Urged To Extend Deadline For Net Neutrality Comments, Due To Coronavirus

Net neutrality advocates are asking the Federal Communications Commission to extend the deadline to comment on how the repeal of the Obama-era rules affects public safety, given the current coronavirus pandemic.

“Maintaining the current comment deadline would require agencies on the front line of managing the COVID-19 crisis to divert resources away from protecting public health and safety -- the very factors about which they are being to provide comment in this proceeding,” the Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and others say in a document filed late last week with the agency.

The groups are asking the FCC for a 30-day extension to April 29.

Last month, the FCC sought public comment on several questions relating to its repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules, including whether the repeal affects public safety. The agency's move followed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which largely upheld the net neutrality rollback, but directed the agency to examine its effect.

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The Obama-era rules prohibited broadband providers from blocking or throttling online traffic and charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery. The rules were approved in 2015, but repealed two years later, after a change in administration.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who supported the repeal, says the prior rules were “heavy handed” and depressed investment. But net neutrality proponents say the rules were necessary to prevent broadband providers from limiting consumers' ability to access streaming video, search engines and other online services and content.

A coalition of tech companies, consumer advocacy groups, state attorneys general and city officials challenged the repeal in court. They raised a host of arguments, including that the repeal could harm public safety.

While the D.C. Circuit largely upheld the FCC's decision to revoke the prior rules, the court returned the matter to the FCC with instructions to examine the implications of the repeal.

The advocates now argue that first responders and others with relevant information need more time to weigh in, due to the coronavirus.

“The Commission has, for the first time, asked numerous specific questions about the impact of its action on public safety,” the advocates write. “The staff, officials and line-level first responders who possess the knowledge necessary to respond to these questions are preoccupied with preparing for, and conducting, emergency responses to a public safety crisis of unprecedented magnitude brought on by the rapid spread of COVID-19.”

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