FCC release of final rule on net neutrality assailed by suits

Attorneys general from 23 states as well as other organizations seek to block the move.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday published its final rule rolling back net neutrality provisions, and a flurry of lawsuits followed, seeking to block the agency’s rule.

The formal publication in the Federal Register means state attorneys general and advocacy groups could file suits to block the order from taking effect. In addition, the publication kicks off a 60-legislative-day deadline for Congress to vote on whether to overturn the decision.

The Republican-led FCC in December voted 3-2 to overturn rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content. The agency’s order overturned the landmark Obama-era net neutrality rules.

Under net neutrality, internet service providers must allow equal access to web content, regardless of the source. Proponents of removing the rules contend that the move will unfetter competition and thus boost economic growth. However, critics of the rollback—among them hospital organizations—contend that the move will set the stage for cable TV-like tiers of services that would force consumers to pay more for services. This may particularly be true in rural areas, where there is often little or no competition among Internet service providers.

Also See: Healthcare organizations voice worry over end of net neutrality

The FCC contends the rollback move was a vote to “restore the longstanding, bipartisan light-touch regulatory framework that has fostered rapid Internet growth, openness and freedom for nearly 20 years.” The White House Office of Management and Budget still must sign off on aspects of the reversal before it takes effect.

Soon after the publication of the final rule, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman led a coalition of 23 Attorneys General in filing a petition to formally commence their lawsuit against the FCC’s rollback. The coalition filed a petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“Today, the FCC made official its illegal rollback of net neutrality—and, as promised, our coalition of Attorneys General is filing suit,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “An open internet, and the free exchange of ideas it allows, is critical to our democratic process. Repealing net neutrality will allow internet service providers to put corporate profits over consumers by controlling what we see, do, and say online. Consumers and businesses in New York and across the country have the right to a free and open internet, and our coalition of Attorneys General won’t stop fighting to protect that right.”

The lawsuit is filed by the Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

The Attorneys General will argue in their suit that, under the Administrative Procedure Act, the FCC cannot make “arbitrary and capricious” changes to existing policies, such as net neutrality. “The FCC’s rule fails to justify the Commission’s departure from its long-standing policy and practice of defending net neutrality, while misinterpreting and disregarding critical record evidence on industry practices and harm to consumers and businesses.”

Also, the suit charges that the rule “wrongly reclassifies broadband internet as a Title I information service, rather than a Title II telecommunications service, based on an erroneous and unreasonable interpretation of the Telecommunications Act.” Finally, the rule “improperly and unlawfully includes sweeping preemption of state and local laws.”

In addition to legal action, Mozilla and Vimeo filed legal challenges to the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules, attacking the agency’s gutting of Obama-era policy. Other court challenges are expected against the agency’s rule.

Finally, the legislatures in more than half of all states are considering legislation that would enforce net neutrality, according to the advocacy group Free Press. So far, governors in Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey, New York and Vermont have taken final action by signing executive orders, Free Press notes.

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