Washington, DC, USA: A coalition of 23 state attorneys general formally challenged the FCC rollback of Obama-era net neutrality rules – open internet – at the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on Thursday, on the grounds that the rollback was passed in violation of federal law.
The petition was cosigned by attorneys general in the following states: New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Mississippi, as well as New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
The coalition’s suit — or petition for review – refers to the FCC’s order as “arbitrary” and “capricious” and challenges the agency’s ability to reclassify broadband without review under Administrative Procedures Act; it contends the order violations federal law, “including, but not limited to,” the US Constitution and the Communications Act of 1934; and further alleges that the order was promulgated in violation of agency rulemaking requirements.
The leader of the coalition, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, said in a statement that the Federal Communication Commission order, published in the federal register earlier Thursday, would permit broadband providers to “put corporate profits over consumers” by way of controlling what they “see, do and say online.”
“An open internet, and the free exchange of ideas it allows, is critical to our democratic process,” said Schneiderman.
In mid-December, the FCC’s Republican majority voted in favor of what it ironically called “Restoring Internet Freedom” order, which overturned Obama-era net neutrality rules preventing internet service providers from blocking or throttling content or creating “fast lanes” to provide better service for companies that pay for it. It further rolled back the classification of ISPs that provided the basis for the rules, which passed in 2015 under a Democratic majority.
The public interest group, Public Knowledge, and New America’s Open Technology Institute filed protective filings, likewise challenging the order, last month at the same US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. It is not yet known in which court the case will be invariably heard, however.
Free Press, a net neutrality advocacy group, filed its petition in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Massachusetts last month and announce plans Thursday to refile soon. California’s Santa Clara County previously filed a petition in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Venue will ultimately be determined by lottery via the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. Each court will be entered into the lottery once regardless of how many parties filed there. The outcome is determined randomly by computer. Parties interested in determining venue have 10 days to file, whereas those simply interesting in joining the suit have 60 days to do so.
Net neutrality advocacy continue to push for a vote on a congressional resolution to invalidate the Restoring Internet Freedom order. Congress has 60 “session days” as of today to force a vote on the issue, which requires a simply majority in both the House and Senate.
Fifty senators, including one Republican, have so far come aboard, prompting the hashtag #OneMoreVote on Twitter.
The congressional resolution faces tougher odds in the House and it seems unlikely that President Trump would sign it. Even if the resolution failed, however, the vote itself would force every congressional lawmaker to openly declare a side on the issue, potentially arming political activists in the midterm elections; the issue being a potent tool for rallying young voters.
The Internet Association, IA, a trade group representing 40 of the country’s biggest tech companies, including Google, Amazon, and Facebook, announced last month plans to intervene in the case against the FCC. While not a formal party to this particular suit, the IA will have the opportunity to demonstrate how the order might injure its member companies.
EARLIER: Trump FCC Publishes Obama-Era Net Neutrality Repeal In Federal Register – The Federal Communications Commission, (FCC), today, Thursday, made the repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality – open internet – official with a publication of the repeal order in the Federal Register. The final draft of the rules sets April 23 as the day the repeal goes into effect, but portions of the order are still pending approval from the Office of Management and Budget, which could delay its implementation.
Now that the new rules have officially been published, net neutrality supporters are able to mount a legal challenge against them. Democratic attorneys general, public interest groups and internet companies have all promised to file lawsuits to preserve the 2015 protections.
One group, Public Knowledge, said that it would be filing its own lawsuit on Thursday.
“Despite the hard blow [FCC] Chairman [Ajit] Pai has dealt to the Open Internet, small businesses, and consumers, the fight for net neutrality continues,” John Bergmayer, the group’s senior counsel, said in a statement.
“Today, Public Knowledge is filing a challenge to the FCC’s action in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where we are confident that the FCC’s illegal and procedurally flawed action will be rejected.”
Net neutrality supporters in Congress are also now able to try to overturn the repeal through legislation. A Senate bill that would erase December’s vote is currently one Republican supporter away from being able to pass the chamber, though it would be a long-shot for passage in the House.
“As a result of the mess the agency created, broadband providers will now have the power to block websites, throttle services, and censor online content,” Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted against the repeal, said in a statement on Thursday. “This is not right. The FCC is on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the law and it deserves to have its handiwork revisited, reexamined, and ultimately reversed.”
The Republican-led FCC voted to repeal the consumer protections in December amid an outcry from internet users and activists worried that the move would give free rein to companies like Verizon and Comcast to disrupt the free flow of information online.