Advocates ready legal showdown with FCC on net neutrality

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Net neutrality advocates said they are gearing up for a legal fight after abandoning attempts to convince the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to keep 2015 rules aimed at maintaining an open internet.

FILE PHOTO: Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, testifies before a Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

The FCC is expected to vote on Dec. 14 to scrap the landmark so-called net neutrality rules championed by Democratic former President Barack Obama, given FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and two Republican commissioners support the repeal.

Advocates for the rules doubt the U.S. Congress will help prevent a repeal, leaving litigation as a last resort.

Industry and public interest groups are considering several strategies to protect the rules banning internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or “throttling” to slow service for certain content, including arguing that the decision is arbitrary and pushing back on the FCC’s classification of ISPs.

Under the proposal by Pai, a Republican appointed by U.S. President Donald Trump, the bulk of the job of protecting the web will be turned over to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Pai has said lifting the net neutrality rules removes heavy-handed regulation. Big ISPs say the rules have restricted investment and innovation and could mean eventual regulations on internet pricing.

Critics of a repeal say they have a number of reasons to sue. Legal strategies could include arguing the reversal is arbitrary because it comes just two years after the Obama-era rules were put in place.

Opponents also say ISPs should continue to be treated as “pipes” that carry movies, videos and Facebook updates, and that the FCC is wrong to categorize them as content providers, which are more lightly regulated.

At least three public interest groups – Public Knowledge, Common Cause and Free Press – have said they are preparing to turn to litigation as a last resort.

The trade group Internet Association, whose members include content providers Alphabet Inc, Facebook Inc and Pandora Media Inc, said it was reviewing Pai’s order “and weighing our legal options.”

ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS

The opponents say one potential legal argument is that the change is “arbitrary and capricious” since the FCC is reversing a rule it enacted just two years ago.

The FCC…

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