March 8, 2018 / 11:27 PM / 14 days ago

U.S. appeals court in San Francisco will hear net neutrality appeal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judicial panel said on Thursday that challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the Obama era open internet rules will be heard by an appeals court based in San Francisco.

FILE PHOTO - Supporter of Net Neutrality Lance Brown Eyes protests the FCC's recent decision to repeal the program in Los Angeles, California, November 28, 2017. REUTERS/ Kyle Grillot

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict litigation said it randomly selected the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court Nth circuit to hear the consolidated challenges. The FCC declined to comment on the decision.

A dozen challenges have been filed by 22 state attorneys general, public interest groups, internet companies, a California county and the state’s Public Utilities Commission seeking to block the Trump administration’s repeal of landmark rules designed to ensure a free and open internet from taking effect.

The suits were filed in both the Ninth Circuit and District of Columbia appeals court. Of the Ninth Circuit court’s 24 active judges, 18 were appointed by Democratic presidents and six by Republican President George W. Bush. There are six current vacancies and President Donald Trump has nominated two candidates.

The FCC published its order overturning the net neutrality rules in the Federal Register on Feb. 22, a procedural step that allowed for the filing of legal challenges.

The Republican-led FCC in December voted 3-2 to overturn 2015 rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content on the internet.

FILE PHOTO - Chairman Ajit Pai speaks ahead of the vote on the repeal of so called net neutrality rules at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, U.S., December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Trump in January criticized opponents for filing cases in the Ninth Circuit and asserted in a tweet they “almost always” win before being reversed.

New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are among the states challenging the decision, arguing the FCC cannot make “arbitrary and capricious” changes to existing policies and that it misinterpreted and disregarded “critical record evidence on industry practices and harm to consumers and businesses.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said he is confident the order will be upheld.

The White House Office of Management and Budget still must sign off on some aspects of the FCC reversal before it takes legal effect. That could take months.

The repeal of the net neutrality rules was a victory for internet service providers like AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc, conferring power over what content consumers can access.

On the other side, technology companies including Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc have thrown their weight behind a congressional bid to reverse the net neutrality repeal.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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