Groups Gear Up for Legal Battles After Net Neutrality Repeal

The controversial rollback of the FCC’s existing open internet rules, which has faced heavy criticism from states, advocacy groups, and tech companies, is likely to end up in court—just as it did when the 2015 Open Internet Order first came to life.

It may be one of the most controversial decisions made during the Trump presidency, and one that could seriously shake up the future of the internet.

The Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of its 2015 Open Internet Order, which went through on Thursday in a 3-2 vote, was so tense that the commission’s meeting had to be briefly evacuated due to a security threat.

The measure, which rolls back strict rules that treated the internet like a communications utility, won’t immediately go into effect, but it will take the conflict over how the internet is regulated out of the hands of the commission and into the hands of the legal system, to state governments, and even in the halls of Congress.

And associations, advocacy groups, and even state governments, are ready for a fight.

Lawsuits Forthcoming

One of the most notable trends to crop up as a result of the repeal efforts has been at the state level, where many attorneys general opposed the repeal efforts, both due to the potential economic threats created by the rollback and the measure’s attempt to preempt states from passing similar measures.

On Thursday, officials from numerous states, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, announced they would sue the FCC over the measure.

Advocacy groups, which have represented some of the most passionate voices on the net neutrality issue, have also suggested that their next step is in the courtroom.

Free Press, an advocacy group on First Amendment issues, has raised $25,000 to help fund a legal campaign against the rollback.

“We intend to sue the FCC on the basis of its broken process, deeply flawed legal reasoning, willful rejection of evidence that contradicts its preordained conclusions, and absolute disregard for public input,” the group says on an action page.

Other groups with an interest in net neutrality issues, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Public Knowledge have pledged more action on the issue.

As for the technology sector, a lawsuit from that corner is possible as well. Reuters reported Wednesday that the Internet Association, which represents many of the technology companies whose services consumers use online daily, said it was “weighing our legal options.”

What About Telecom?

Groups representing broadband providers, who by and large pushed for the repeal, spoke positively about this week’s measure.

“Today, the future of our open, thriving internet has been secured,” USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter stated in a news release. “The nation’s top consumer protection agency now has jurisdiction over fairness and neutrality across the internet, ensuring consistent rules apply to all players, including the most powerful online companies.”

(One interesting side note: IEEE Spectrum reported this week that USTelecom still had pending legal action on the prior net neutrality measure, which will likely continue out of concerns that the FCC overstepped its regulatory authority to pass the 2015 order in the first place. It and other groups are aiming to continue their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.)

Meanwhile, Michael Powell, the head of NCTA — The Internet & Television Association, said that the association’s members wouldn’t do anything to harm the current digital climate. He added, though, that the rules that were repealed were out of date and hindered innovation. “We cannot reach for the future with regulation from the distant past,” he emphasized.

Also supporting the vote were the American Cable Association and CTIA, the group representing wireless providers.

One notable critic in the telecom space was INCOMPAS, a group that supports a competitive technology climate and includes members representing both sides of the debate, notably tech giants like Facebook and Google. Chip Pickering, the head of the group, recently told Recode that it, too, was gearing up for a battle.

“The fight to save the internet has just begun,” Pickering told the news outlet. “We will fight in the courts, Congress, and in every corner of our country until a free and open internet is returned to the American people.”

Protesters protest the FCC's effort to repeal net neutrality regulations earlier this month. (Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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