FCC proposes to pat its own back for a net neutrality repeal well done

13 October 2020 by Steve Blum
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In a rush to approve as much of the republican majority’s agenda as possible before next month’s election, the Federal Communications Commission published several draft decisions last week, that will presumably be approved at its next meeting, on 27 October 2020. Included in that batch is a draft of a clean-up ruling that addresses problems a federal appeals court found with its 2017 network neutrality repeal. None of the issues were considered serious enough to nullify the repeal, but the court did tell the FCC to fix them.

The appeals court had four specific objections to the FCC’s net neutrality repeal. Three are addressed in the draft order – impact on public safety, pole attachment rules and broadband’s eligibility for lifeline subsidies, such as those adopted last week by the California Public Utilities Commission:

  • Public safetynothing to see here, move along, move along is the FCC’s response. It went through the bureaucratic motions of reviewing its net neutrality rollback and concluded that it “promotes public safety”. Well, then.
  • Pole attachments – this issue doesn’t impact California, or any other state that regulates its own pole attachments. In the draft, the FCC admits that taking common carrier status away from companies that only provide broadband, and not phone or video service, is a problem in states that use the default federal pole attachment rules, but the damage is inconsequential compared to the totally awesome wonderfulness of its net neutrality repeal.
  • Lifeline – the draft concludes that so long as broadband is delivered over a network that supports phone service, there’s nothing in federal law that prevents subsidising it for low income households. The CPUC’s wireline broadband program bundles broadband and voice service, so no problem there.

The fourth issue – the court’s rejection of the FCC’s blanket preemption of state and local broadband regulations – will stand as is, at least for now. It wasn’t included in the FCC’s net neutrality do-over earlier this year, so it’s not a part of the draft order that’s on the table. California’s defence of its net neutrality law leans heavily on that appellate ruling.