More than 100 Democrats in Congress, led by Sen. Ed Markey (Mass.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), are formally backing a federal lawsuit to restore net neutrality protections that the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed last year.
"Whether in the halls of Congress or the halls of the courts, the fight for net neutrality is the fight for our online future, and we will prevail."
—Sen. Ed Markey
A total of 27 U.S. senators and 76 members of the House of Representatives filed an amicus brief (pdf) with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals asserting that the repeal order amounted to "an abuse of discretion," and was "inconsistent with the plain language" of federal legislation that subjected internet service providers (ISPs) to Title II regulations.
"Both the plain language and congressional intent behind the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that Congresswoman Eshoo and I helped author make clear that today, broadband access to the internet is a telecommunications service," explained Markey, who also spearheaded a measure in Congress to restore the consumer protection rules.
Although net neutrality campaigners maintain that Markey's Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, which narrowly passed the Senate earlier this year, is the best way to reverse the FCC's order, so far the measure has only gained the support of one Republican in the House.
"Whether in the halls of Congress or the halls of the courts, the fight for net neutrality is the fight for our online future, and we will prevail," Markey optimistically declared Wednesday. He charged that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the Republican commissioners "are on the wrong side of history," and ignored the intent of the 1996 law when they "reclassified broadband back to an information service and eviscerated net neutrality rules."
The Telecommunications Act "was written to be technologically neutral and forward-looking," added Eshoo. "It was established that there would always be a cop on the beat to protect the public in communications, regardless of advances in technology."
Describing the internet as "one of the greatest inventions in human history," she emphasized that "it's our responsibility to protect it as a force to drive innovation, expand our economy, and promote free speech and our democracy."
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Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who now serves as a special adviser to Common Cause, praised the lawmakers' move on Twitter, concluding that their brief presents "powerful and irrefutable evidence" that repealing federal net neutrality rules was "abysmally wrong."
In amicus on #netneutrality, @SenMarkey & @RepAnnaEshoo and 100 other Members of Congress present powerful and irrefutable evidence that @FCC had an open internet right in 2015 and abysmally wrong in 2017. Thanks to them for telling it like it is! https://t.co/SGedTFlgX3
— Michael Copps (@coppsm) August 29, 2018
Common Cause joined with several other groups in filing a separate amicus brief on Tuesday. In a statement, Copps said that the now-rolled back rules had "established a framework that ensured the internet remained open for free speech, civic engagement, economic opportunity, and innovation."
Copps accused Pai's FCC of illegally "creating a wild west where ISPs are free to block, throttle, or create fast lanes and slow lanes," and warned that this "direct attack on our democracy...will lead to the 'cable-ization' of the internet—where internet service providers can control what we do, what we see, and where we go online."
Net neutrality activists and federal lawmakers aren't alone in their fight to restore consumer protections. In a tweet announcing the lawmakers' brief, Markey acknowledged states' efforts to pass net neutrality laws in the absence of federal rules. The California Assembly is expected to vote on what advocates have called the "gold standard" of state-level legislation as early as Wednesday afternoon.
100+ lawmakers just joined me and @RepAnnaEshoo in legally challenging the @FCC’s repeal of #NetNeutrality. Ajit Pai is waging an all-out assault on the open internet, and we’re fighting back in the court, Congress, and the states.
Our opponents won’t let up and neither will we! pic.twitter.com/Gan4zp1eKS
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) August 29, 2018