Mozilla has joined a coalition of U.S. state attorneys general in battling the Federal Communications Commission’s controversial recent ruling that overturned net neutrality laws.
“The internet is a global, public resource,” Mozilla wrote in a blog post. “It relies on the core principle of net neutrality (that all internet traffic be treated equally) to exist. If that principle is removed — with only some content and services available or with roadblocks inserted by ISPs to throttle or control certain services — the value and impact of that resource can be impaired or destroyed.” The foundation has filed an appeal of the FCC ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and 21 other attorneys general also filed suit there, in an action that had been signaled for some weeks.
“An open internet – and the free exchange of ideas it allows – is critical to our democratic process,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers – allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online.”
ISPs who lobbied hard for the change argued that net neutrality is anticompetitive and overreaching, unfairly classifying them as Title II telecommunications services, which allowed for stronger government regulation. Proponents such as Mozilla and the attorneys general argue that the FCC vote, which reclassified ISPs as Title I information services, was equally erroneous under the law.
Among other arguments, proponents say the FCC’s Dec. 15 vote, rendered 3-2 along party lines, violated U.S. law barring agencies from making “arbitrary and capricious” rules changes. Given that net neutrality was only passed into law in 2015, following a protracted debate stretching back to the mid-2000s, advocates are hoping the D.C. appeals court will agree.
But that process, even if successful, could take years given the complexity of the issues and the sizable legal war chests in play on both sides. Judgments appealed from cases in the D.C. court go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, extending the potential timeline much further.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senate Democrats say they are close to having the 51 votes necessary to overturn the FCC’s ruling under the Congressional Review Act. But it’s difficult to see this effort as much more than symbolic, or a means to rally the Democratic base on the road to this year’s midterm elections. That’s because the Republican-majority House of Representatives would have to pass a similar resolution, whereupon it would be sent to President Donald Trump’s desk. Trump has been outspoken in support of the FCC’s vote and would likely veto an attempt to overturn it.
Since the vote, large ISPs have been remiss to deliver concrete promises they will uphold the spirit of net neutrality, raising questions of whether premium “fast lanes,” data throttling and other measures are in the pipeline. At the same time, smaller ISPs such as Sonic and Starry are using their pro-net neutrality stance as a point of differentiation. The problem, of course, is that these providers are largely regional or in the early stages of national rollouts, making them an alternative for just a small percentage of the country.