The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau has rejected calls to extend the time to comment on the Public Notice to “refresh the record” in the Restoring Internet Freedom proceeding, which concerns the repeal of net neutrality rules implemented in 2015.
In February, the Bureau released a public notice to “refresh the record” for Restoring Internet Freedom and Lifeline proceedings after the court’s decision in Mozilla Corp. v. FCC, with a deadline for comments of March 30 and for reply comments of April 29. The court largely upheld the FCC’s decision to repeal its net neutrality rules. However, there was uncertainty around certain areas, including, how this would affect public safety. The FCC asked for public comment about how prioritizing internet speeds could help some organizations.
The Public Notice aimed to “refresh the record on how the changes adopted in Restoring Internet Freedom Order might affect public safety.” The Bureau extended comments for 21 days, so the new deadline for comments was April 20 and reply comments was May 20. On April 16, “the City of Los Angeles, the County of Santa Clara, the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, and the City of New York (Requestors)” requested another 60-day extension for the comment deadlines. The Requestors stated the “circumstances have not yet improved since the Commission granted the original extension request, and that local government personnel continue to be fully occupied with responding to the current emergency,” in reference to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Santa Clara County was part of the lawsuit against the FCC because of this net neutrality issue. When the wildfires decimated parts of California in 2018, firefighters in the county had their devices slowed down because Verizon throttled their devices during the fight with the wildfires.
“The FCC lost on this issue precisely because it did not fully consider the repeal’s threats to public safety, and now it is attempting to cook the books by manipulating the timing of public comments in the middle of a pandemic that local public servants—our front-line defenders—are heroically battling,” Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams said.
FCC rules require that requests for extension of time are filed at least seven days before the deadline, but this request was filed four days before the deadline. The Bureau states that the Requestors “have not established that the pandemic affected their ability to file a timely motion for extension of time.” The Bureau also states that Requestors were most likely aware of their need for an extension more than seven days before the deadline. Further, the Bureau states “[i]t would be unfair at this late date to extend the comment deadline when other commenters (including, presumably, other states and localities) have been preparing to submit timely filings.” Therefore, the Bureau and Commission state that an extension is not warranted or needed, pointing to its previous 21-day extension and others have not indicated more time was needed. Other parties have been able to file a comment in a timely manner.
The Bureau points out that “the issues in this proceeding have public safety implications, and we do not believe that delaying resolution of these critical issues is in the public interest.” As a result, the Commission states that an extension would not be in the public’s interest and consequently, the request for further extension is denied.
However, some are not thrilled with the FCC’s decision. “The FCC’s decision is shameful, offensive, and dangerous. The FCC must rethink this decision immediately,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said.