By Jim Puzzanghera
A group of 22 Democratic state attorneys general, including those from California and New York, filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to block the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of tough net neutrality rules for online traffic.
The suit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, argues that the vote last month along party lines by the Republican-controlled FCC was an "arbitrary and capricious" change to regulations enacted by Democrats in 2015.
Those rules were designed to ensure the uninhibited flow of online content. They prohibited AT&T Inc., Charter Communications Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and other broadband and wireless internet service providers from selling faster delivery of certain data, slowing speeds for specific video streams and other content, and blocking or otherwise discriminating against any legal online material.
"A free and open internet drives innovation, economic growth, and consumer choice," said California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra. "As home to countless startups and technology giants alike, California knows this better than anywhere else. We will do everything we can to defend our vibrant internet economy and consumer choice from the FCC's attempt to curtail net neutrality."
The suit, which every Democratic state attorney general in the country joined, came as public interest groups also went to court to try to halt the FCC's policy reversal.
Net neutrality supporters also are seeking to have Congress block the FCC's repeal. So far, 50 senators have agreed to support a resolution that would do that, one short of the majority needed for passage in that chamber.
But that effort to enact a congressional resolution of disapproval faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House and a near-certain veto by President Trump.
The repeal of the net neutrality rules was pushed by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican picked by Trump last year to lead the agency.
Most Republicans in Congress and telecommunications companies strongly opposed the regulations, which classified broadband as a more highly regulated utility-like service under Title 2 of federal telecommunications law.
They argued the tougher oversight led to reduced investment in broadband networks _ a point net neutrality supporters dispute.
A spokesman for Pai declined to comment on the attorneys general suit.
Most Democrats support the net neutrality rules, as do consumer advocates, digital rights groups and online giants such as Amazon, Google and Facebook.
"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," said New York Atty. Gen. Eric T. Schneiderman, who is leading the suit.
The FCC's 3-2 vote on Dec. 14 eliminated the utility-like oversight of internet service providers in favor of mostly market forces. Internet service providers now are required only to disclose their online practices, with the Federal Trade Commission policing them for anti-competitive practices.
The repeal of the rules opens the door for broadband providers to start charging additional fees to transport video streams or other content at a higher speed through their network in a practice known as paid prioritization.
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