US net neutrality battle turning into a major war

18 Jan 2018


The battle to save net neutrality is heating up as Senate Democrats move toward overturning the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of Obama-era net neutrality regulation while several lawsuits have been filed challenging the FCC move.

On Monday, Democrats announced all 49 of their members and one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, will vote on a bill that uses the Congressional Review Act to reinstate the neutrality regulation.

And on Tuesday, attorneys general from 22 states, Firefox browser maker Mozilla, and several public interest groups filed the first lawsuit against the FCC challenging the repeal.

But experts generally feel that despite the overwhelming support, reversing the FCC's rule will be a difficult battle, as courts are generally reluctant to overturn decisions taken by federal agencies.

New York Attorney General Eric T Schneiderman on Tuesday led a coalition of 22 attorneys general in filing a multistate lawsuit to block the FCC's neutrality rollback. The coalition filed a petition for review in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, formally commencing the lawsuit against the FCC and the federal government.

Schneiderman was joined by the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

''An open internet – and the free exchange of ideas it allows – is critical to our democratic process,'' said Attorney General Schneiderman. ''The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers – allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online.

''This would be a disaster for New York consumers and businesses, and for everyone who cares about a free and open internet. That's why I'm proud to lead this broad coalition of 22 Attorneys General in filing suit to stop the FCC's illegal rollback of net neutrality,'' Schneiderman said in a statement.

Mozilla said on Tuesday, ''The internet is a global, public resource … ending net neutrality could end the internet as we know it. That's why we are committed to fighting the order. In particular, we filed our petition today because we believe the recent FCC decision violates both federal law as well as harms internet users and innovators. In fact, it really only benefits large Internet Service Providers.''

Democrats say they are confident that they can get the job done.

"When we force a vote on this bill, Republicans in Congress will for the first time have the opportunity to right the administration's wrong and show the American people whose side they're on: big ISPs and major corporations, or consumers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

The efforts represent a glimmer of hope for the fate of net neutrality, which was essentially dismantled when the FCC voted last month to repeal rules adopted in 2015.

Those rules had barred internet service providers from blocking or slowing down access to the internet or charging companies a fee to reach customers faster than competitors.

Consumer advocates, internet companies like Facebook and Google, and non-profits, including the New York Public Library, say an open internet is essential to free speech and innovation.

On the other side, cable operators and phone companies, like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, say the rules went too far in treating broadband like a utility, subjecting it to decades-old regulations meant for the telephone network.

The fight has become highly partisan, with Democrats in Washington and throughout the country uniting to protect net neutrality, and free-market Republicans arguing that Obama-era FCC rules were too much.

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