FCC Extends Net Neutrality Deadline Amid COVID-19

Law360 (March 26, 2020, 9:24 PM EDT) -- The Federal Communications Commission is giving people more time to weigh in on net neutrality and several other key issues due to the coronavirus pandemic's having set many aspects of society akilter.

The agency’s Wireline Competition Bureau decided Wednesday to extend the deadline for comments an additional three weeks, but Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said that the extension should have been longer — and that in light of the pandemic, all agency deadlines should follow suit.

“The FCC should extend all of its deadlines, to the extent it can, in light of the coronavirus pandemic,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “Everyone should be focused on what matters the most right now — that is, responding to this crisis.”

A day after their decision, the United States officially became the country with the greatest number of diagnosed cases of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — surpassing the much larger China and heavily afflicted Italy.

For net neutrality advocates, the public health crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19 has thrown the need for such regulations into sharp relief. The comments of the proceeding included many from individuals hoping to impress upon the agency the importance of internet services' and speeds' being fairly allocated, as millions of people stay home in a collective effort to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Many commenters — some of whom identified themselves as doctors and nurses — argued that the importance of telemedicine made net neutrality regulations vital to the public health.

The FCC reopened discussion on net neutrality earlier this year, asking the public to help it “refresh the record” following the D.C. Circuit’s request that the agency revisit several aspects of its net neutrality deregulation.

The agency is looking into how its decision to roll back Obama-era regulations prohibiting the blocking, throttling and paid prioritization of internet content affect public safety organizations, low-income consumers and internet infrastructure.

--Additional reporting by Kelcee Griffis. Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

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