(Bloomberg)—Mozilla Corp. and Vimeo Inc. filed legal challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules, attacking the agency’s gutting of Obama-era policy.
Regulations the FCC passed in December were published Thursday in the Federal Register, setting in motion legal and legislative challenges, while leaving unclear when the rules would come into effect.
In Congress, lawmakers were considering publication as opening a window for a Democratic-led effort to vote to rescind the FCC’s new rules—a long shot, considering that Republicans hold a majority in each chamber and President Donald Trump could veto a challenge to his chosen FCC chairman’s action.
Other filings attacking the repeal are expected on Thursday, including one from many state attorneys general.
The Republican-led FCC with its 3-2 vote in December removed Obama-era prohibitions on blocking web traffic, slowing it or demanding payment for faster passage via their networks. Over objections from its Democrats, the FCC gave up most authority over broadband providers such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. and handed enforcement to other agencies.
In a blog post the day before the FCC vote, David Cohen, senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer for Comcast, urged calm. “This is not the end of net neutrality,” Cohen says in the post. “Despite repeated distortions and biased information, as well as misguided, inaccurate attacks from detractors, our internet service is not going to change.”
“It is time for us to restore internet freedom,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who dissented when the FCC adopted net neutrality under Democratic leadership in 2015, said at the time. “We are restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the internet for most of its existence.”
Pai may benefit from a legal doctrine that gives regulatory agencies the benefit of the doubt in legal questions. The so-called Chevron deference was named after the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court case that birthed the concept.
Eliminating the regulations allows broadband providers to begin charging websites for smooth passage over their networks. Critics said that threatens to pose barriers for smaller companies and startups, which can’t afford fees that established web companies may pay to broadband providers or won’t have the heft to brush aside demands for payment. Broadband providers said they have no plans for anti-competitive “fast lanes,” since consumers demand unfettered web access.
The FCC’s rules still can’t take effect until they undergo a review, which could take months, of the burden they impose on reporting requirements for broadband providers. That leaves uncertain the exact date the package takes legal effect.
Among e-commerce companies, observers expect the final FCC decision to be especially hard on smaller players. But even e-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500, is worried about what the end of net neutrality rules—which require internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all data the same way—could mean.
Over the summer, Amazon joined organizers of an online protest aimed at derailing the Republican plan to end mandatory net neutrality. Other participants included online marketplace Etsy Inc., (No. 22) Google, Facebook Inc., Netflix and Twitter Inc.
Graham Cooke, CEO and founder of web personalization platform, Qubit, which works with hundreds of retail brands, says the FCC’s decision could make a challenging situation even harder for upstart e-retailers.
“The entire e-commerce industry is already in a ‘David versus Goliath’ situation with Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, Google, etc. You have to ‘pay to play’ if you want your business to appear on page one in any major search category. That’s the current state with the existing rules. The repeal of net neutrality enables the ISPs to become Goliaths too,” Cooke says.
“Airbnb, Uber and TripAdvisor were once young and fragile. Without net neutrality, they may never have been able to get off the ground, and yet we can’t imagine our world without them,” Cooke says. “It’s imperative that we address the balance of power amongst all of these giants so that small innovative brands have a fair shot at success, now and in the future.”
Additional reporting by James MeltonFavorite