Net Neutrality: Twenty-two state attorneys general filed a lawsuit on Tuesday asking a court to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from rolling back its former rules that prevent broadband companies from favoring some web content over other content.
David Royse | LedeTree
The suit was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. and seeks to reverse a vote by the FCC late last year that did away with the former rules, the so-called net neutrality requirement. Before it was repealed, that rule essentially said that broadband companies had to treat all web content the same in terms of consumers’ access to the content. Internet providers couldn’t, under the rule, charge customers more for visiting more popular websites, for example, or make deals with certain content providers to make their websites available at higher speeds.
Led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the attorneys general argue that in repealing the rules, the FCC violated federal rules governing regulatory agencies as well as the Communications Act of 1934 and the federal Constitution. Under the federal Administrative Procedures Act, agencies cannot make “arbitrary and capricious” changes to policies, which is what Schneiderman and the others AG’s argue the FCC did. The move to undo the previous rules, which went into effect during the Obama era, was led by the current chairman, Ajit Pai.
“An open internet – and the free exchange of ideas it allows – is critical to our democratic process,” Schneiderman said in a press release. “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.”
The suit comes as some state legislatures have also started to consider their own net neutrality laws. California and New York are among the states where lawmakers have filed bills to put net neutrality requirements back into place. It is unclear, however, whether those states could preempt a federal policy in this case.
Broadband companies, and some other interested parties, have made several arguments in favor of repealing the net neutrality rules.
The thrust of the main intellectual argument against net neutrality is a market-based one – that government shouldn’t be in the business of regulating what companies can and can’t do in this case. But the more practical argument has been primarily that regulating what internet providers do stifles investment in new technologies.
If the federal government has the ability to regulate what rates internet providers can charge, the incentive for new startups bringing new technology to the business is less, opponents of net neutrality have argued.
“The FCC’s misguided 2015 decision to impose heavy government regulation of the internet networks raises costs, which are ultimately born by consumers, and threatens the continued growth and expansion of internet networks throughout America,” NCTA, the Internet and Television Association argues. “Consumers are best served by policies that encourage ongoing investment and innovation especially as technology changes, as network demands increase, and as stakeholders focus on closing the digital divide in every community across America.”
In addition to Schneiderman, the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennyslvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington all also signed on as co-plaintiffs in the complaint.
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