Telecom industry groups sue to block Biden’s reinstatement of net neutrality rule

Several groups representing the U.S. telecommunications industry have filed legal challenges seeking to block the Biden administration from reinstating net neutrality rules that are set to take effect on July 22.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and its 3-2 majority of Democratic commissioners voted along party-lines in April to reassert its oversight over broadband internet through net neutrality rules that had been adopted in 2015 during the Obama administration but were reversed by the Trump administration after it flipped control of the agency.

The reinstatement of the rules will restrict internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking, throttling or engaging in paid prioritization of content, which was the framework of the 2015 net neutrality regulation. It would also give the FCC new tools to revoke authorizations of foreign-owned entities operating broadband networks in the U.S. that are deemed to be a threat to national security.

Industry groups representing AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and others have filed legal challenges against the FCC’s net neutrality order in recent days in seven U.S. circuit courts. By filing challenges in multiple circuit courts, it creates the potential for a “circuit split” if different courts issue contradictory decisions, a dynamic that increases the likelihood of the Supreme Court taking up the issue.

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President Joe Biden

President Biden’s FCC is facing a legal challenge in its effort to reinstate net neutrality. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The groups include USTelecom, NCTA, CTIA and ACA Connects, who asked the FCC to halt the order from taking effect so they can seek judicial review or, if needed, a court order temporarily blocking the new rules pending review.

They argued that the FCC “has once again claimed all-encompassing authority to regulate how Americans access the internet – this time, adopting even more invasive rules than it did in 2015.”

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FCC Net Neutrality

The FCC voted along party-lines in April to reinstate net neutrality rules. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic appointee, said the agency would not pursue rate regulation and will “not undermine incentives to invest in networks.”

Reinstating net neutrality has been a priority for President Biden since he took office, and he signed an executive order in 2021 that urged the FCC to advance regulations to that end.

However, Democrats were stymied for almost three years because they did not take majority control of the five-member FCC until October. Commissioners serve staggered five-year terms, though they may extend their time until the conclusion of the session of Congress that begins after their fixed term expires, which effectively gives them an extra year and a half in office.

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel advanced the reinstatement of net neutrality, which is expected to take effect July 22 barring a court-ordered delay. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images / Getty Images)

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During the Trump administration, the FCC argued that net neutrality rules were unnecessary, blocked innovation and caused ISPs to slow their investments in broadband networks.

The Trump-era FCC’s withdrawal of the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules prompted a dozen states to impose their own net neutrality laws or regulatory frameworks. Industry groups abandoned legal challenges to those state-level rules in May 2022.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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