Net Neutrality Supporters Blast FCC, Prepare For Court Battle

Add Washington Governor Jay Inslee to the long and growing list of people urging the Federal Communications Commission to retreat from its plan to repeal the net neutrality rules.

"The internet has become an unparalleled economic engine, generating millions of new jobs while providing even the smallest businesses in the United States access to a global marketplace," Inslee said in a letter sent to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai this week. "We should not be taking steps that undermine its core purpose. This is as critical as freedom of speech."

Inslee, like numerous other open internet supporters, wants Pai to call off a planned December 14 vote on repealing the net neutrality rules. Those rules, passed in 2015, classified broadband as a utility service and imposed some common carrier rules on providers, including prohibitions against blocking or throttling content and on creating paid fast lanes.



Pai has proposed that the FCC reclassify broadband as an information service and repeal the prohibitions on blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. He also says a different agency -- the Federal Trade Commission -- should police broadband providers, although a federal appellate court recently stripped the FTC of authority over telecoms.

Pai claims that his repeal order -- which carries the Orwellian title "Restoring Internet Freedom" -- will restore the so-called "light touch" regulatory regime that existed before 2015. In fact, the FCC imposed net neutrality rules on broadband providers in 2010. Those rules were in effect until 2014, when a federal appellate court struck them down.

Inslee, like other net neutrality advocates, points out that the Internet economy surged thrived under the open Internet principles that Pai now wants to scrap.

"By supporting an open internet, our state has benefitted from 190,000 jobs, 9,000 companies, thousands of innovations and billions of dollars of investment that are at the heart of our vibrant digital economy," Inslee writes. "We have seen firsthand how innovative internet companies -- like Amazon, Zillow and Expedia -- have the capacity to transform the way middle-class families shop, travel, enjoy entertainment and buy homes."

Other critics of Pai's plans, including 28 U.S. senators, are asking the FCC to at least delay the vote long enough to investigate well-publicized glitches with the agency's commenting process. Among others, up to 1 million comments about the proposed repeal may have come from bots that impersonated people, and 50,000 complaints about possible net neutrality violations were left out of the record.

The Silicon Valley group Internet Association on Wednesday also requested that the FCC either delay voting on the planned repeal, or reject Pai's proposal. That group noted that contrary to Pai's claims, the internet has long operated under net neutrality principles.

"Today, because of long standing respect for net neutrality codified in the 2015 Order, the internet contributes more than 6 percent of US GDP, over 3 million direct American jobs, and nearly 24 million additional online income opportunities in every state," the Internet Association writes. "Net neutrality is not just a business issue. The draft 'Restoring Internet Freedom Order' under consideration by the FCC undoes decades of bipartisan agreement on net neutrality principles and ends net neutrality as we know it."

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted in favor of the 2015 regulations, has been calling on her colleagues to delay the repeal vote. "When the @FCC #NetNeutrality record is corrupted by a million comments with identity theft & half a million comments from Russia we need to stop & ask what went wrong," she tweeted Thursday. "Public integrity matters."

Despite the numerous calls for a postponement, the FCC has said it plans to proceed with the scheduled vote. If the agency does so, it will almost certainly vote along party lines to repeal the regulations.

Even so, the agency won't necessarily have the last word. Net neutrality advocates are already planning an appeal. On Wednesday, former FCC counsel Jonathan Sallet outlined one potential argument in a call with reporters. He said the order -- which tries to transfer responsibility for broadband to the FTC -- suggests that the FCC wants to shirk the responsibilities it was tasked with by Congress. "The draft order seems to say that the FCC is no longer interested in exercising its responsibilities as an expert agency,” Sallet said. "I believe the draft order is highly vulnerable to reversal."

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