Mozilla, Vimeo, States Sue FCC in Bid to Save Net Neutrality

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Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have joined the legal battle started by Mozilla and Vimeo to reverse the Federal Communications Commission repeal of net neutrality.

The Obama-era prohibitions, meant to prevent broadband service providers from slowing or blocking web traffic or demanding payment for faster speed across their networks, were rescinded by the FCC in December on a 3-2 party-line vote. Over objections from Democrats, the FCC gave up most of its authority over broadband providers such as AT&T and Comcast Corp. and handed enforcement to other agencies.

While the new regime, dubbed "Restoring Internet Freedom," was published in the Federal Register on Thursday, the ensuing lawsuits cast a shadow on when it will take effect.

At least five petitions have been filed at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington alone, with Mozilla—developer of the Firefox web browser and the video-sharing website Vimeo leading the way when the clerk's office opened for business. The Open Technology Institute and the open internet advocate Public Knowledge soon followed. Twenty-three Democratic attorneys general later joined the fray.

"We are confident that the Restoring Internet Freedom order will be upheld in court," says Brian Hart, an FCC spokesman. He says the agency was returning to a "light-touch regulatory framework" blessed by the Supreme Court in a 2005 decision.

Some Democrats in Congress are considering publication as opening a window for their party to lead an attempt to rescind the FCC's new rules—a long shot, considering that Republicans hold a majority in each chamber and President Donald Trump could veto a challenge to his chosen FCC chairman's action.

"It is time for us to restore internet freedom," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who dissented when the FCC adopted net neutrality under Democratic leadership in 2015, said at the time.

Pai may benefit from a legal doctrine that gives regulatory agencies the benefit of the doubt in legal questions. The so-called Chevron deference was named after the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court case that birthed the concept.

Eliminating the regulations frees broadband providers to begin charging websites for quicker passage over their networks. Critics said that may pose barriers for smaller companies and startups, which can't pay the fees that established web companies can better afford, or won't have the heft to brush aside demands for payments. Broadband providers said they have no plans for anti-competitive "fast lanes," since consumers demand unfettered web access.

The FCC's rules still can't take effect until they undergo a review of the burden they impose on reporting requirements for broadband providers. That could take months and leaves uncertain the exact date the package takes legal effect.

-- Bloomberg News

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