FCC tells ISPs to ask permission first before getting on with business

6 July 2015 by Steve Blum
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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, so slip it under the door and we’ll get back to you.

The Federal Communications Commission is making the same catch-22 offer about its new common carrier broadband regulations that it made regarding data privacy rules. It’s basically saying we’re not in any hurry to actually write the rules – hey, it’s a holiday weekend, after all – so why don’t you just tell us what you want to do and we’ll get back to you on whether it’s OK or not.

That’s the gist of a notice put out by the enforcement bureau – on the day before a three-day weekend – suggesting Internet service providers submit marketing materials for approval, via an “open Internet advisory opinion”…

Advisory opinions are a tool available to companies that are concerned about whether a potential activity or new business practice they are considering will comply with the Open Internet rules. Companies may request an advisory opinion from the Bureau regarding such proposed conduct. The opinions will provide guidance about how the Bureau will evaluate the conduct and the factors that will be considered in determining whether the conduct would be consistent with the Open Internet rules…

Advisory opinions will allow companies to seek guidance on the propriety of certain Open Internet practices before implementing them, enabling them to be proactive about compliance and avoid enforcement actions later. Because advisory opinions will be publicly available, they should also reduce the number of disputes by providing guidance to the industry.

It’s the lazy man’s approach to implementing regulations. Rather than do the hard work of trying to craft rules and procedures that comply with the “light touch” promised by FCC chair and America’s lobbyist-in-chief Tom Wheeler, the FCC’s enforcement bureau is just going to kick back and wait for companies to ask questions, which it can then answer in its own way and on its own schedule.

It’s an approach that minimises the workload for FCC staff and maximises the billable hours for Beltway lobbyists and lawyers. In Washington, that’s a win-win solution.