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U.S. House passes bill to exempt small ISPs from net neutrality rules

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Regional ISPs won a coup this week as the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the Small Business Broadband Deployment Act, expanding the FCC's exemption of smaller ISPs from some of the transparency requirements of the Open Internet rules on net neutrality.

A smaller ISP has now been defined 250,000 subscribers, up from 100,000 in the previous definition, and the exemption ends after five years.

Lawmakers said that the measure is aimed at avoiding costly administrative requirements for smaller broadband providers. 

"These small providers don't have enough resources to navigate the bureaucratic maze and bring broadband to communities at the same time," Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said. "And if these small Internet service providers go under, it could leave many people with limited Internet access and no access at all."

For its part, the FCC recently extended the exemption for a year and delayed a decision about making it permanent while the regulator collected more info on the impact of the enhanced transparency requirements on small ISPs.

Following the House's decision, the bill must now pass the Senate and get President Obama's signature.

In December 2015, the FCC exempted a portion of other service providers from the rules for a year following the passage of the new net neutrality rules and extended their exemption through this year.

"They still have to, as you know, follow all the laws and all the protections and all that," House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden said.

With the bill in place, the FCC would write a report examining if it should make the exemption permanent and if it should redefine what constitutes a smaller ISP.

Meanwhile, Senators Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Joe Manchin (D-West Va.) presented a larger companion bill.

Not everyone is happy with the new bill. A number of Democrat lawmakers are concerned that the bill's language could take away the FCC's regulatory power to protect consumers from various issues such as fraudulent billing charges, as well as oversee mergers or investigate possible net neutrality violations.

For more:
- Inside Sources has this article
- Broadcasting & Cable has this article

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