AT&T/Verizon Lobbyists To “Aggressively” Sue States That Enact Net Neutrality
Above Photo: Getty Images | eccolo74
ISPs will sue to block net neutrality laws until they get one they like.
A lobby group that represents AT&T, Verizon, and other telcos plans to sue states and cities that try to enforce net neutrality rules.
USTelecom, the lobby group, made its intentions clear yesterday in a blog post titled, “All Americans Deserve Equal Rights Online.”
“Broadband providers have worked hard over the past 20 years to deploy ever more sophisticated, faster and higher-capacity networks, and uphold net neutrality protections for all,” USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter wrote. “To continue this important work, there is no question we will aggressively challenge state or municipal attempts to fracture the federal regulatory structure that made all this progress possible.”
The USTelecom board of directors includes AT&T, Verizon, Frontier, CenturyLink, Windstream, and other telcos. The group’s membership “ranges from the nation’s largest telecom companies to small rural cooperatives.”
States’ rights don’t apply to net neutrality
Spalter’s blog post reminisces about the founding of the United States of America, noting that the Articles of Confederation “ma[de] Congress the sole governing body of our new national government” and that the Constitution “grant[ed] the federal government jurisdiction over commerce that moves across state lines.”
State regulations on net neutrality thus conflict with America’s founding principles, Spalter wrote:
It is said that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ Nowhere can we find a more perfect modern example for this sentiment than in the cacophony of disparate calls by state and local regulators across the country each seeking to impose their own brand of ‘net neutrality’ regulations on consumers’ Internet experience.
The US should have one net neutrality standard instead of different rules in each state and city, Spalter also wrote. Spalter reiterated the broadband industry’s argument that websites should be as heavily regulated as Internet providers, even though net neutrality rules have generally been designed to prevent ISPs from discriminating against online services:
Protections should be no different for consumers in Minnesota or Iowa than they are in California or Florida. Equally true, consumers deserve consistent safeguards across the online world, whether engaging with Facebook, Goggle [sic], AT&T or Comcast.
Of course, the US did have a nationwide net neutrality standard that prohibited ISPs from blocking, throttling, or prioritizing Internet content in exchange for payment. But that standard was bitterly opposed by USTelecom and other broadband industry groups.
USTelecom previously sued the Federal Communications Commission to overturn those net neutrality rules and lost in court. However, USTelecom eventually got its way after Republican Ajit Pai was appointed FCC chairman by President Trump; Pai led a 3-2 vote to kill the rules.
But Washington state and Oregon are imposing net neutrality laws, saying the FCC lacks authority to preempt them. There is pending net neutrality legislation in more than half of US states, and the governors of five states have issued executive orders designed to protect net neutrality.
Spalter complained that the net neutrality debate has gone on too long. “No one will get the years of time back that’s been spent on a ‘net neutrality’ debate long on circular, heated rhetoric and painfully short on honest, constructive dialogue,” he wrote.
But the net neutrality debate might have ended years ago if USTelecom and other broadband industry groups hadn’t opposed the federal standard. State lawmakers only decided to enforce net neutrality at the local level after ISPs convinced the FCC to abandon its nationwide oversight of net neutrality.
“Hell no” to (some) state laws
USTelecom hasn’t announced specific lawsuits yet, but any state that passes a net neutrality law is likely to be sued by USTelecom or other broadband lobby groups and ISPs. Broadband industry lawsuits will argue that the FCC has authority to preempt the local laws. The FCC’s preemption authority is limited, but legal experts disagree on whether states can impose strict net neutrality laws.
USTelecom hasn’t been consistent on the question of whether federal policy should trump states’ rights in telecom regulation. USTelecom opposed the FCC during the Obama administration when it preempted state laws that prevent the expansion of municipal broadband networks, which often compete against USTelecom member ISPs. When the FCC lost a court case over that preemption attempt, USTelecom called the ruling “a victory for the rule of law.”
But while USTelecom believes states should have the right to prevent the spread of community-run broadband networks, the group doesn’t think states should have the right to impose their own net neutrality laws.
USTelecom is hoping that Congress will end the debate by passing a net neutrality law—as long as it’s less strict than the rules recently repealed by the FCC.
“We also will continue to work with Congress to enact one consistent set of national and permanent consumer protections,” Spalter wrote. “All Americans deserve equal rights online. Standing up for them means not merely saying no to state-level regulation, but hell no to the idea of dismantling what must be a united and connected future.”