States refile lawsuits to block repeal of U.S. net neutrality



A coalition of 22 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia on Thursday refiled legal challenges intended to block the Trump administration’s repeal of landmark rules designed to ensure a free and open internet from taking effect.

The Federal Communications Commission officially published its order overturning the net neutrality rules in the Federal Register on Thursday, a procedural step that allows for the filing of legal challenges.

The states, along with Web browser developer Mozilla Corp and video-sharing website Vimeo Inc, had filed petitions preserving their right to sue in January, but agreed to withdraw them last Friday and wait for the FCC’s publication.

The Republican-led FCC in December voted 3-2 to overturn 2015 rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content on the internet.

“Repealing net neutrality will allow internet service providers to put corporate profits over consumers by controlling what we see, do, and say online,” said New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, who is leading the coalition. Other members of the group include California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The attorneys general argue that the FCC cannot make “arbitrary and capricious” changes to existing policies and that it misinterpreted and disregarded “critical record evidence on industry practices and harm to consumers and businesses.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is confident the order will be upheld, his office said in a statement.

The White House Office of Management and Budget still must sign off on some aspects of the FCC reversal before it takes legal effect. That could take months.

Congressional aides say the publication will trigger a 60-legislative-day deadline for Congress to vote on whether to overturn the FCC’s decision. U.S. Senate Democrats, who hold 49 seats in the 100-person chamber, have the backing of 50 senators for repeal, leaving them one vote short of a majority.

Democrats need 51 votes to win any proposal in the Republican-controlled Senate because Vice President Mike Pence can break any tie.

Even if Democrats do win a Senate majority, reinstatement of net neutrality would also require a favourable vote in the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a larger majority, and would still be subject to a likely veto by President Donald Trump.

The repeal of the net neutrality rules was a victory for internet service providers like AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc, conferring power over what content consumers can access.

On the other side, technology companies including Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc have thrown their weight behind the congressional bid to reverse the net neutrality repeal.

The FCC December order also seeks to pre-empt states from imposing their own net neutrality rules. But governors in Vermont, Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey and New York have signed orders pledging to do business only with internet providers that abide by net neutrality rules.