Republican FCC commissioners decree the rules are what we say they are

21 December 2016 by Steve Blum
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It’s good to be the king.

Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, the two republicans on the Federal Communications Commission, have sent a letter to lobbyists for telecoms and Internet service providers promising them that their clients don’t have to follow rules that went into effect last week, saying the times they are a changing…

We want to assure you and your members that we would not support any adverse actions against small business providers for supposed non-compliance with the “enhanced transparency” rules after [17 January 2017], and we will seek to revisit those particular requirements, and the Title II Net Neutrality proceeding more broadly, as soon as possible.

The transparency rules they’re referring to require ISPs to disclose information about their prices, data caps and fees, among other things. The requirement went into effect a year ago, but small ISPs – those with fewer than 100,000 subscribers – were given a year’s breathing room. That exemption expired last week and the rules will hit with full force next month. Or would, if the FCC planned to do anything about it.

There was an attempt in congress to expand the exemption and make it permanent, but that died along with a raft of other telecoms bill at the end of the session. The FCC could have extended or amended the deadline too, if outgoing chairman Tom Wheeler hadn’t have gone into vapor lock after the election and spiked anything that even hinted of controversy.

The merits of the rules aside, O’Rielly and Pai’s letter is disturbing, for a couple of reasons. First, FCC commissioners cannot rule by fiat. Regulations are changed via an established process that ends with a vote by all commissioners, even if the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Ad hoc diktats from a rump majority used to be the stuff of banana republics. Not any more.

Second, the junta pair are beginning their reign with wheeleresque bowing and scraping to Beltway lawyers and lobbyists. We can forget about draining the swamp, at least at the FCC.