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21 States Sue to Keep Net Neutrality as Senate Democrats Reach 50 Votes


FILE - Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 11, 2016. He said Jan. 16, 2018, that all 49 Democrats in the Senate back repeal of the recent FCC ruling on internet neutrality. Maine Republican Susan Collins backs repeal as well.

A group of 21 U.S. state attorneys general filed suit to challenge the Federal Communications Commission's decision to do away with net neutrality on Tuesday, while Democrats said they needed just one more vote in the Senate to repeal the FCC ruling.

The attorneys general filed a petition with a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., to challenge the action, calling it "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion" and saying that it violated federal laws and regulations.

The petition was filed as Senate Democrats said they had the backing of 50 members of the 100-person chamber for repeal.

Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement that all 49 Democrats in the upper chamber backed the repeal. Earlier this month, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she would back the effort to overturn the FCC's move. Democrats need 51 votes to win any proposal in the Republican-controlled Senate because Vice President Mike Pence can break any tie.

Override would be difficult

Trump backed the FCC action, the White House said last month, and overturning a presidential veto requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers. A two-thirds vote would be much harder for Democrats in the House, where Republicans hold a greater majority.

States said the lawsuit was filed in an abundance of caution because, typically, a petition to challenge would not be filed until the rules legally take effect, which is expected later this year.

Internet advocacy group Free Press, the Open Technology Institute and Mozilla Corp. filed similar protective petitions Tuesday.

FILE - After a meeting voting to end net neutrality, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai answers a question from a reporter, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington.
FILE - After a meeting voting to end net neutrality, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai answers a question from a reporter, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington.

The FCC voted in December along party lines to reverse rules introduced in 2015 that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the issue would be a major motivating factor for the young voters the party is courting.

A trade group representing major tech companies including Facebook, Alphabet and Amazon said it would support legal challenges to the reversal.

The FCC vote in December marked a victory for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications and handed them power over what content consumers can access on the internet. It was the biggest win for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in his sweeping effort to undo many telecommunications regulations.

Disclosure required

While the FCC order grants internet providers sweeping new powers, it does require public disclosure of any blocking practices. Internet providers have vowed not to change how consumers obtain online content.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, said in an interview Tuesday that he planned to hold a hearing on paid prioritization. He has urged Democrats to work constructively on a legislative solution to net neutrality "to bring certainty and clarity going forward and ban behaviors like blocking and throttling."

He said he did not believe a vote to overturn the FCC decision would get a majority in the U.S. House. Representative Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said Tuesday that his bill to reverse the FCC decision had 80 co-sponsors.

Paid prioritization is part of American life, Walden said. "Where do you want to sit on the airplane? Where do you want to sit on Amtrak?" he said.

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