A group that represents some of the United States’ biggest telecom companies is planning on suing any municipality that attempts to enact its own version of net neutrality, which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal in December.
In an open letter titled “All Americans Deserve Equal Rights Online,” USTelecom’s CEO Jonathan Spalter wrote that they would “aggressively challenge state or municipal attempts to fracture the federal regulatory structure that made all this progress possible.”
“For almost the entirety of the internet’s history, there has been a strong bipartisan consensus that this was a powerful and unique tool for our country and its place in the world,” USTelecom, whose board of directors includes executives from AT&T, Verizon, and more than a dozen other telecom companies, wrote. “[It is one] that has thrived under a light-touch regulatory framework.”
Telecom executives were thrilled when FCC Chairman Ajiit Pai moved to repeal net neutrality in December. The Obama-era regulations prohibited Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Verizon and AT&T from slowing down, speeding up, or blocking certain websites. If the deadline for Congress to stop the repeal passes without any additional action, corporations will have the chance to relegate websites they don’t like to a slower tier of service, throttling innovation and forcing consumers to cough up more cash for better internet speeds.
But states and local municipalities are fighting back. According to the advocacy group Free Press, 26 states are now considering their own net neutrality legislation, 21 attorneys general have filed suit against the FCC’s repeal order, and 68 mayors and county leaders have written an open letter to the FCC arguing that the repeal would stifle economic growth.
Senate Democrats have also embedded themselves in the net neutrality debate. In late February, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a motion of disapproval, which would allow Congress to nullify the FCC’s repeal, provided it passes the House, Senate and the President’s desk within 60 legislative days.
It’s uncertain whether or not states have the legal authority to challenge the FCC’s repeal — the FCC previously told local lawmakers that their regulations cannot preempt the FFC’s rulings. But the continued grassroots protection of net neutrality is undeniably irking telecom executives.
“No one will get the years of time back [that have] been spent on a ‘net neutrality’ debate long on circular, heated rhetoric and painfully short on honest, constructive dialogue,” Spalter said in his letter. “If we truly believe — as I do — that all Americans deserve an open internet, then we should fight together at the federal level for permanent, evenhanded protections that apply across the entire internet. Protections should be no different for consumers in Minnesota or Iowa than they are in California or Florida.”
Spalter did not mention that the United States already had in place federal protections to ensure that consumers across the country had even access to internet, before the FCC chose to repeal it: it was called “net neutrality.”