Tech Giants, Democrats Go To Bat For Net Neutrality Rules In Court

"Once again, big broadband is on the wrong side of history."
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is part of a group of lawmakers that filed a brief this week to defend net neutrality.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is part of a group of lawmakers that filed a brief this week to defend net neutrality.
WASHINGTON -- Tech giants and Democratic lawmakers filed briefs in court this week defending the strong net neutrality rules approved by the Obama administration. Telecom and cable companies are suing the Federal Communications Commission in an effort to overturn the rules.

Net neutrality refers to the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, meaning Internet Service Providers cannot charge content producers a premium for giving users more reliable access to content. In February, the FCC voted 3-2 on party lines to approve strong rules to protect net neutrality, a landmark decision that was widely supported by the American public.

Major tech companies, longtime supporters of net neutrality, have recently ramped up their support in court. The Internet Association -- a trade group that represents Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and other companies -- filed a legal brief, dated Sept. 20, backing the rules.

Over two dozen lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Senate Democrats, and Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking House Democrat, filed their own supportive brief on Monday. "This Court should affirm the FCC’s Order as entirely consistent with the authority delegated to the Commission by Congress," the filing reads. 

AT&T and the CTIA-The Wireless Association, as well as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, whose members include Comcast, sued the FCC in April in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. (Verizon, the parent company of The Huffington Post, is a member of CTIA.)

These companies contend that the agency overstepped when it ruled to reclassify consumer broadband as a utility service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. The agency's rules also applied to mobile access. 

"It is, in short, a sweeping bureaucratic power grab by a self-appointed 'Department of the Internet,'" reads a joint brief for the petitioners, filed in July. Telecom and cable companies say the rules will hamper innovation, a criticism backed by Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have attempted to gut the rules.

The Internet Association pushed back against critics' claim that the rules will hamper business development. "The open Internet fuels a virtuous circle of innovation," their brief reads. 

Public interest and civil rights groups support the new regulations on the basis that they promote Internet freedom.

"We also talk about the Internet as a powerful tool for political and social expression that allows communities of color, in particular, to shed light on issues and events that often go unnoticed by traditional mass media," Steven Renderos, the senior campaign manager for the Center for Media Justice, said on Monday during a call with reporters.

Althea Erickson, the policy director for Etsy, said on the call that an open Internet allows microentrepreneurs to compete with much bigger brands. She noted that 30,000 Etsy sellers contacted Congress and the FCC in support of open Internet protections, going so far as to put their comments on engraved spoons and embroidered pillows.

"By putting in place strong net neutrality rules, the FCC made clear that the Internet is open for business," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said on the call.

"Once again, big broadband is on the wrong side of history," he added.