Net neutrality gets one more shot at resurrection. This time, its salvation may lie in the courtroom.
Oral arguments will be heard Friday morning before the three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The case pits Mozilla and several other internet companies, like Etsy and Reddit, as well as 22 state attorneys general, against the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission.
The net neutrality proponents are suing the government claiming that the agency, led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, overstepped its bounds when it voted in December 2017 to roll back the Obama-era net neutrality protections, which banned broadband providers from slowing or blocking access to the internet or charging companies higher fees for faster access.
Though little has happened yet, net neutrality supporters fear that the lack of protections ultimately could mean higher prices and fewer choices for consumers. Internet service providers, however, argue the rules make it harder to invest in their networks and improve their ability to serve you.
Though the vote to repeal the regulations happened more than a year ago, the rules didn't officially come off the books until June. The backlash among supporters was immediate. Democrats in Congress unsuccessfully tried to undo the repeal through the Congressional Review Act. The measure passed the Senate, but it failed in the House.
Several states, including California, Oregon and Washington, have also been pushing through legislation to protect these principles. Governors in other states, like New York and Montana, have already signed executive orders banning the states from doing business with companies that don't comply with net neutrality.
Then there are the lawsuits, which are getting their day in court Friday.
Behind the clash: The former, Democrat-led FCC reclassified broadband networks to make them subject to the same strict regulations that govern telephone networks. Supporters claim the reclassification was needed to give the rules an underlying legal basis.
The stricter definition provoked a backlash from Republicans, who said the move was clumsy and blunt.
Pai, appointed by President Donald Trump, called the 2015 rules "heavy-handed" and "a mistake." He argued the rules deterred innovation because internet service providers had little incentive to improve the broadband network infrastructure. (You can read Pai's op-ed on CNET here.) Pai took the FCC back to a "light" regulatory approach, pleasing both Republicans and internet service providers.
But net neutrality supporters say there are several things wrong with Pai's analysis and the repeal order, which also abdicated the FCC's authority to oversee broadband networks altogether. The FCC's order also tries to prevent states from passing their own net neutrality regulations. Net neutrality proponents say the rollback and its preemption of state authority is unlawful. And they're asking the federal appeals court to throw out the FCC's repeal.
What's at stake, net neutrality proponents claim, is the future of the internet. They fear that without rules of the road to protect the internet as we know it, it may not exist much longer.
"Net neutrality is an essential consumer protection that everyone online deserves, and this case is the fight to save it," said Dennelle Dixon, COO of Mozilla. "We look forward to Friday's hearing before the court."
CNET will be streaming the audio of the oral arguments live starting at 9:30 a.m. ET/ 6:30 a.m. PT on Livestream and .
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