Commentary

FCC Refuses Cities' Request For Time To Weigh In On Net Neutrality Repeal

When the Federal Communications Commission repealed the Obama-era net neutrality rules, the agency failed to consider how the move would affect the safety of the public.

That's according to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which directed the FCC to take a new look at the impact of the repeal on public safety, as well as the Lifeline program (which subsidizes broadband) and utility pole attachment.

This week, the FCC left little doubt it isn't interested in reviewing new evidence about how the decision to deregulate broadband might affect people's safety.

Although the country is in the middle of a public health crisis that has sapped resources of first responders, the FCC rejected requests by officials from Los Angeles, Santa Clara and New York City -- the center of the COVID-19 emergency -- who said they needed more time to gather information.

“Put simply, we remain in the thick of responding to the current public health emergency,” city officials wrote to the agency on April 16. “The input of our emergency and public safety personnel is critical to an accurate record in these matters as well as the Commission’s meaningful consideration of public safety issues.”

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The FCC was unmoved.

“It is the policy of the Commission that extensions of time shall not be routinely granted,” the Wireline Competition Bureau said in an order issued this week. “The issues in this proceeding have public safety implications, and we do not believe that delaying resolution of these critical issues is in the public interest.”

The agency noted it had already granted one three-week extension, and said the local officials violated FCC rules by waiting three days too long to make their request.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who opposed the net neutrality repeal, criticized the agency's inflexibility.

“The FCC was wrong when it repealed net neutrality and was wrong again today in its decision to deny a request from cities and first responders seeking extra time to comment on the net neutrality remand,” she stated this week. “We are in the middle of an unprecedented nationwide crisis. Understandably, local governments and public safety officials have asked for more time to comment so that they rightfully can focus on responding to the public health emergency at hand. It’s shameful that the FCC did not heed their request.”

The Obama-era net neutrality rules, repealed in 2017, prohibited broadband providers from blocking or throttling traffic, and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.

On Tuesday, city officials submitted comments -- albeit incomplete ones -- arguing that the repeal “increases the risk to public safety” because it prevents the FCC “from ensuring the robust and reliable transmission of public health and safety-related communications between and among local governments and their residents.”

The officials added: “Recent experience, including in the context of COVID-19, reflects that neither market forces nor unenforceable voluntary pledges constrain broadband providers in order to protect public safety; only thoughtful and thorough regulation can ensure that broadband internet facilitates local governments’ efforts to protect the public.”

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