California challenges U.S. reversal of Obama-era 2017 net neutrality rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The California Public Utilities Commission challenged the outgoing Republican-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to maintain its 2017 repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules, court documents show.

FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the headquarters of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 29, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

The California agency asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to throw out the FCC’s order approved in October as “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.”

The appeals court in October 2019 largely upheld the FCC’s repeal, but ordered the agency to reconsider the repeal’s impact on public safety and other issues.

The 2015 net neutrality rules issued by the FCC under former President Barack Obama barred internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing internet content or offering paid “fast lanes.” Under outgoing President Donald Trump, the 2017 FCC order granted ISPs sweeping powers to recast how Americans use the internet, as long as they disclose changes.

A spokesman for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who will step down on Jan. 20, declined comment.

The FCC voted along party lines not to make any changes to the order.

This week, 13 U.S. House members from California wrote Merrick Garland, attorney general nominee of President-elect Joe Biden, and urged quick withdrawal of the Trump administration’s federal lawsuit against California over its state net neutrality law.

“As the pandemic surges, it is more important than ever that we restore the policies to ensure families have full access to an open and reliable internet,” said Representative Anna Eshoo, who led the California lawmakers’ letter.

The net neutrality repeal was effective in June 2018. ISPs have not changed how users access the internet, but consumer groups fear they could slow speeds selectively or rethink access.

ISPs and Pai argue the repeal boosted investment. Consumer groups dispute the assertion.

When the Senate confirms a new Democrat to the five-member FCC, the commission is expected to move to reinstate the net neutrality rules.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat who is among those Biden is considering tapping to lead the FCC, criticized the commission’s decision in October. She said then that the FCC “is not interested in getting it right. Instead, it doubles down, rather than recognizing the realities of the world around us.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio