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Internet providers with fewer than 250,000 subscribers will not be required to disclose information on network performance, fees, and data caps, thanks to a rule change by the FCC that many are seeing as a prelude to larger setbacks for net neutrality. Previously, the exemption applied to ISPs with fewer than 100,000 subscribers, but that expired in December 2016 before being bumped up today.
The rule passed in a 2-1 vote, with Republicans saying the transparency requirements unfairly burdened smaller ISPs with additional work, instead of focusing their efforts in building out better broadband services to the rural parts of the United States. Mignon Clyburn, the FCC's only Democrat, who voted against, argued that disclosures are an important customer protection
Clyburn says that the FCC is effectively exempting “billion-dollar public companies" from rules that can be complied with in mere hours each year. Moreover, while the 250,000-subscriber exemption won't apply to the top broadband providers such as Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Verizon, and others, it will exempt many ISPs owned by conglomerates. This means that internet providers could avoid disclosing information by simply breaking their service areas up into different subsidiaries of a larger holding company.
There are approximately 17 total wireline and wireless companies nationwide who have customer levels between these points. Some of the transparency rules that these companies will be able to avoid include:
- Price—the full monthly service charge. Any promotional rates should be clearly noted as such, specify the duration of the promotional period, and note the full monthly service charge the consumer will incur after the expiration of the promotional period.
- Other fees—all additional one-time and/or recurring fees and/or surcharges the consumer may incur either to initiate, maintain, or discontinue service, including the name, definition, and cost of each additional fee. These may include modem rental fees, installation fees, service charges, and early termination fees, among others.
- Data caps and allowances—any data caps or allowances that are a part of the plan the consumer is purchasing, as well as the consequences of exceeding the cap or allowance (e.g., additional charges, loss of service for the remainder of the billing cycle).