WISPA Seeks Broad Net Neutrality Exemption for Small ISPs

Dec 17, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Dec. 17, 2023 – A trade group for fixed wireless access (FWA) providers is seeking a broad exemption for small Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from strong federal Internet regulations expected to be adopted next year.

The Federal Communications Commission is planning to revive Net Neutrality rules in 2024 that would ban ISPs from throttling or blocking Internet traffic. The rules would also prevent ISPs from accepting payment to create Internet fast lanes.

WISPA – a trade association representing hundreds of smaller FWA broadband providers serving more than 9 million consumers in rural and other unserved and underserved areas – is urging the FCC to adopt a categorical exemption for small ISPs.

“Historically, the [FCC] has exempted small businesses from rules that it has imposed on larger companies. The [FCC] should follow its practice and exempt smaller businesses from any new rules it may adopt in this proceeding,” WISPA said in an FCC filing last Thursday.

By way of example, WISPA said the FCC has accommodated small providers with various forms of relief within the context of equal employment opportunity requirements, the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, and the 1992 Cable Act – demonstrations that the FCC understood that a “one-size-fits-all” approach can inflict harm on small business owners and their customers.

When the Democratic-controlled FCC adopted Net Neutrality rules in 2015 – rules subsequently reversed by the Republican-controlled FCC in 2018 – the agency did not exempt small ISPs.

WISPA said that all but two of its members are considered to be “small entities” under the Small Business Act and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s size standards.

In a member survey, WISPA found that 65.6% reported serving 2,000 or fewer customers and more than 54% reported having 1,000 or fewer residential customers. The same survey revealed that 60 percent have five or fewer full-time employees, more than 73 percent have ten or fewer full-time employees, and more than 84 percent have 25 or fewer full-time employees.

“The proposed rules would burden small businesses with new obligations that are outside the scope of what smaller providers can be expected to handle with their limited resources and limited staff, and especially in light of the absence of any identifiable harm they have caused or would cause to Internet openness,” WISPA said.