Big Tech to Join Legal Fight Against Net Neutrality Repeal

Posted January 5, 2018 8:36 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — An industry group that represents the country’s biggest technology companies said Friday that it planned to join a looming legal fight against the Federal Communications Commission over its repeal of net neutrality rules.

In its announcement, the group, the Internet Association, made clear for the first time that Facebook, Google, Netflix and other large tech firms would put their reputations and financial clout behind the challenge.

Lawsuits seeking to block the commission’s new policy, which was approved in December, are expected in the weeks ahead, once the rules take effect. The rules will let internet service providers block online content, or charge websites for faster delivery to consumers, by rolling back the protections against such actions that were adopted in 2015.

Several public interest groups, including Free Press and Public Knowledge, and some startups had announced plans to challenge the commission’s move weeks ago, but the Internet Association had been undecided about how to respond. Before the commission voted on the repeal, some of America’s biggest tech companies, Facebook and Google in particular, took a back seat during public protests over the issue.

On Friday, a day after the commission released the 539-page final rules, the Internet Association said it would join the coming legal case against them.

“The rule defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet,” Michael Beckerman, the association’s chief executive, said Friday.

Netflix, whose data-heavy video streams could face extra charges by internet service providers, also said it would support a legal challenge.

“In 2018, the Internet is united in defense of #NetNeutrality. As for the FCC, we will see you in court,” the company said in a message posted on Twitter.

The issue of regulating internet service providers to maintain an open internet has wound through the courts and the commission for more than a decade. The repeal in December, led by Ajit Pai, the commission chairman, attracted strong opposition.

Pai has said the new rules would encourage more investment and innovation by internet service providers. He has also argued that the change would withstand any legal challenge, as it essentially restores the rules to what they were before 2015.

The commission declined to comment Friday.

Democratic lawmakers in Washington hope to reverse the commission’s action by using the Congressional Review Act, and they have introduced numerous bills that could replace the agency’s rules, although the prospects for those efforts appear weak. Lawmakers in California, New York and Washington state are also considering bills that would re-create the 2015 net-neutrality rules in those states.

Public interest groups are trying to make net neutrality an issue in this year’s midterm elections. They have deployed text and email campaigns meant to pressure lawmakers to support a congressional reversal of the commission’s action.

“We’ll be going to court soon to challenge the FCC and ramping up pressure on Congress to throw the rules out altogether,” said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press. Pai, he said, had “awakened the public.”

The strong response to the repeal has also led to some safety concerns. At the commission meeting where the new rules were approved, law enforcement officials briefly cleared the room to address an unspecified security issue.

Pai canceled a scheduled appearance at the tech industry’s CES trade show next week. The commission declined to say why he would not attend, but has previously confirmed that he and his family had recently received threats by phone and email over the net neutrality issue.