U.S. appeals court, House panel to take up net neutrality

January 31, 2019

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal appeals court will hear arguments on Friday over whether the Trump administration acted legally when it repealed landmark net neutrality rules governing internet providers in December 2017.

The panel, which has set aside 2-1/2 hours to hear the case, is made up of Judges Robert Wilkins and Patricia Millett, two appointees of Democratic former President Barack Obama, and Stephen Williams, an appointee of Republican Ronald Reagan.

Separately, a U.S. House panel said Thursday it would hold a hearing on Feb. 7 on the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to repeal the 2015 Obama administration’s net neutrality rules.

In May, the U.S. Senate voted 52 to 47 to reverse the FCC’s decision to repeal the net neutrality rules, but the House never took up the issue.

The Republican-led FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to reverse the net neutrality rules, which barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization. The FCC said providers must disclose any changes in users’ internet access as it repealed what it termed “unnecessary, heavy-handed regulations.”

The FCC repeal was a win for providers like Comcast Corp <CMCSA.O), AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc, but was opposed by internet companies like Facebook Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc.

A group of 22 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reinstate the Obama-era internet rules and to block the FCC’s effort to pre-empt states from imposing their own rules guaranteeing an open internet.

They argue the FCC disregarded evidence that internet

providers will engage “in abusive practices that harm consumers and undermine public safety” and instead unreasonably rely “on a patchwork of unenforceable voluntary commitments (and) amorphous market pressures.”

Matthew Berry, the FCC’s chief of staff, said he expects the judiciary “will uphold the FCC’s decision to return to that regulatory framework under which the internet flourished prior to 2015 and is continuing to thrive today.”

Several internet companies are also part of the legal challenge, including Mozilla Corp, Vimeo Inc and Etsy Inc (ETSY.O), as well as numerous media and technology advocacy groups and major cities, including New York and San Francisco.

Major providers have not made any changes in how Americans access the internet since the repeal.

In October, California agreed not to enforce its own state net neutrality law until the appeals court’s decision on the 2017 repeal, and any potential review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Frances Kerry)