21 states and D.C. sue government over FCC net neutrality rule

The lawsuit aims to block the “illegal rollback” of Obama-era net neutrality rules and was filed the same day as Senate Dems present a resolution to overturn the repeal.
By Jessica Davis
12:25 PM
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Ajit Pai during the FCC meeting vote on net neutrality on Dec. 14. Credit: C-span

A group of 22 state attorneys general, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, filed a multistate lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday to block the “illegal rollback” of the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai successfully led the effort to repeal net neutrality with a 3-2 vote in December despite a long list of bipartisan opposition. In fact, a Washington Post survey found that 83 percent of Americans supported net neutrality.

However, the move may be “an abuse of discretion,” according to the suit.

[Also: Now that net neutrality is dead, the question is: Will it help healthcare?]

Citing the Administrative Procedure Act, Schneiderman said the FCC is barred from making “arbitrary and capricious” changes to existing policies. The suit claims the new rule fails to justify the repeal and misinterprets and disregards “critical record evidence on industry practices.”

Further, the suit alleges that the agency wrongly classified broadband as Title I information services, instead of Title II, “based on an erroneous and unreasonable interpretation of the Telecommunications Act.”

The Obama administration reclassified broadband providers as Title II common carriers, instead of Title I. Pai argued this move has harmed investments into broadband speed and included the reclassification of the group to “light-touch” regulations with the repeal.

[Also: FCC ends net neutrality in partisan 3-2 vote, fueling outrage]

The repeal includes sweeping preemption of state and local laws, according to the suit.

The petition for review was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in a formal lawsuit against the FCC and the federal government. Also included in the group are attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Maine, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, among others.

“An open internet – and the free exchange of ideas it allows – is critical to our democratic process,” said Schneiderman in a statement. “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.”

The net neutrality repeal has put many on edge in the healthcare industry. While Pai argued repeatedly that the move would give internet service providers the ability to create fast lanes for telemedicine, not many are convinced.

“It’s hard to say exactly what will happen. If you listen to ISPs they claim it won’t hurt customers. If you listen to content providers, they say it will,” said Mark Gaynor, associate professor of health management at Saint Louis University.

“You can probably find individual cases where it would enhance some vendors or some patients,” Gaynor said. “But overall it will not, and will certainly not allow the innovation we need, as the little guys won’t be able to compete with the big players because they won’t be able to afford the better service.”

Mozilla, makers of the Firefox Web browser, also filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday and requested a review of the FCC repeal.

Both lawsuits were filed as all 49 Senate Democrats announced support of new legislation to overturn the net neutrality repeal. Led by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, the resolution of disapproval would restore open internet order.

The resolution will be introduced after the FCC posts the repeal in the federal register, and then the group will force a vote within 60 days.

“Republicans now have a clear choice – be on the right side of history and stand with the American people who support a free and open internet, or hold hands with the special interests who want to control the internet for their own profit,” Markey said in a statement.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
Email the writer: jessica.davis@himssmedia.com