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San Francisco Appeals Court To Hear Net Neutrality Challenge

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Appeals court in San Francisco selected to hear legal challenges to FCC’s decision to reverse net neutrality

A federal judicial panel has randomly selected an appeals court in San Francisco to hear the growing number of challenges to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The US communications regulator had in December voted 3-2 to overturn Net Neutrality regulations, a move that many feel will damage the future of an open Internet in the United States.

The FCC decision prompted a widespread backlash. Earlier this week Washington State signed a law in direct opposition to the FCC, and it said it would stop Internet Service Providers from blocking websites or offering fast lane Internet access to companies willing to pay.

Legal Challenges

The net neutrality laws had been delivered under the former Obama administration back in 2015.

But now the FCC is currently controlled by Republicans, and its Republican chairman Ajit Pai (appointed by President Donald Trump) has long opposed net neutrality.

In December Pai succeeded in getting the law repealed, although the White House Office of Management and Budget must sign off on some aspects before it takes legal effect (which could take a few months).

In February the FCC published its reversal order in the Federal Register, a procedural step that allowed for the filing of legal challenges.

And these legal challenges have now flooded in, and the reversal is also being vigorously challenged in the US Senate.

And the moment it is understood that lawmakers in about two dozen US states have introduced bills similar to Washington State. And multiple governors, including in New York and Montana, have signed executive actions that prohibit ISPs with state contracts from blocking or slowing data on their lines.

And this is on top of a dozen challenges filed by 22 state attorneys general, public interest groups, internet companies, a California county and the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

Reuters reported that New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are among the states challenging the decision, arguing the FCC cannot make “arbitrary and capricious” changes to existing policies and that it misinterpreted and disregarded “critical record evidence on industry practices and harm to consumers and businesses.”

Court Selected

In order to deal with all of these challenges, the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict litigation said it had randomly selected the US Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco to hear the consolidated challenges.

The FCC reportedly declined to comment on the decision, although Chairman Ajit Pai has said he is confident the order will be upheld.

Yet the overturning of the net neutrality rules by the FCC had been as opposed by many in the tech industry and beyond.

Indeed, such was the fallout from the decision, that Pai in January this year unexpectedly cancelled an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas because of death threats.

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