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States Challenge FCC 'Internet Freedom' Order

Phil Harvey
8/21/2018

When the FCC issued its "Restoring Internet Freedom" order, it voted along party lines to roll back net neutrality because those pesky regulations would slow spending and harm consumers. Now the attorneys general from 22 states and the District of Columbia, representing 165 million people, are suing to block the FCC's action.

The rollback -- led by a former telecom lawyer and current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai -- takes away the 2015 Title II classification of Internet service as a "common carrier" service. Without that regulatory safeguard in place, ISPs and telecom carriers are free to arbitrarily block and slow down content they don't like, so long as they document and disclose what they're doing. (See FCC Nixes Net Neutrality Rules on June 11 and Court Puts FTC Back in Net Neutrality Mix.)

The attorneys general of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia disagree with Pai's take on Internet regulation.

"For more than fifteen years, the Federal Communications Commission has agreed that an open Internet free from blocking, throttling, or other interference by service providers is critical to ensure that all Americans have access to the advanced telecommunications services that have become essential for daily life," the brief filed by the states' AGs said. "The recent Order represents a dramatic and unjustified departure from this long-standing commitment."

Interesting, too, is that the states are upset by the FCC's strategy of preempting state and local laws that govern how telcos are regulated in their own backyard. "The Order compounded its devastating impact on millions of Americans by purporting to preempt state and local laws that would protect consumers and small businesses from abuses by service providers," the brief stated. "The Commission identified no valid authority for such preemption." (See California Lawmakers Embrace Strong Net Neutrality Rules .)

There's a familiar pattern here. The FCC, again, working hard for big telcos, is also aiming to preempt state regulations and local municipalities when it comes to installing 5G network equipment. As we've covered here in Light Reading, the telcos are hellbent on pushing past city leaders so the companies aren't accountable for providing adequate service to poor residents, cleaning up rights-of-way sites and paying a fair price to cities for use of their infrastructure to support for-profit, publicly-traded companies. The FCC's broadband coalition, which purports to address these concerns, is not helping. (See Carriers Awkwardly Embrace San Jose's Small Cell Success and Cities to FCC: Stop Undermining Us.)

In her statement, New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood, who is leading the states' AGs coalition and, unlike Pai, drinks from a normal-sized coffee mug, said: "The government petitioners’ brief focuses on two critical issues: first, that the FCC’s order is arbitrary and capricious because it puts consumers at risk of abusive practices by broadband providers, jeopardizes public safety, and more; and second, that the FCC’s order unlawfully purports to preempt state and local regulation of broadband service."

— Phil Harvey, US News Editor, Light Reading

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