Faced with the current COVID-19 outbreak, the Federal Communications Commission has agreed to extend the deadline for the public to weigh in on how the repeal of the Obama-era rules affects public safety, the agency's Wireline Competition Bureau said Wednesday.
The new deadline is April 20, three weeks after the original cut-off date.
The agency's move comes in response to a request for a 30-day extension by net neutrality advocates, including the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society,Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge.
Those groups argued in a recent filing that the original deadline would have required first responders, and others who are involved in combatting COVID-19, to divert resources from the pandemic.
Last month, following a ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the FCC sought public comment on several questions related to its repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules, including the impact on safety, the Lifeline program (which subsidizes broadband for low-income customers) and regulations regarding utility poles.
The Obama-era rules prohibited broadband providers from blocking or throttling online traffic and charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery. Those rules were approved in 2015, but repealed two years later, after a change in administration.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 needed to prevent broadband providers from limiting people's ability to access online video, search, and other services and content.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who opposed the rollback of the Obama-era rules, stated Wednesday that she would have preferred a longer extension of the comment deadline.
“When it comes to collecting public feedback on what the FCC’s net neutrality repeal means when it comes to public safety and low-income consumers, an even longer extension would have been appropriate,” she stated. “The FCC should extend all of its deadlines, to the extent it can, in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone should be focused on what matters the most right now -- that is responding to this crisis.”