Trump administration rejects states’ argument on net neutrality

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai rejected arguments Monday that states should be able to impose their own net neutrality protections after the Trump administration in December withdrew them.

The Trump administration late on Sunday filed suit seeking a preliminary injunction to block California’s state net neutrality law from taking effect in January. The court filing came soon after Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation.

Pai told reporters after an event in Washington the arguments made by states are “completely baseless” and said the internet is “inherently an interstate service… From a legal perspective we’re on very strong ground.”

In August, 22 states, including California, and a coalition of trade groups representing major tech companies urged a federal appeals court to reinstate the rules and said it could not tie states’ hands.

“An agency that deems itself to lack statutory authority to regulate a particular practice altogether cannot rely on the same absence of authority to preempt state regulation,” the states wrote.

This marks the latest clash between the Trump administration and California, which have sparred over environmental, immigration and other hot-button issues.

Senator Ed Markey said Monday, “Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for the open internet, the Trump administration, along with the big broadband behemoths, will stop at nothing to prevent strong net neutrality rules from being put on the books on the state and national levels.”

The FCC voted 3-2 in December along party lines to reverse rules that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization. The vote also sought to preempt states from setting their own rules governing internet access.

The Trump administration rules were a win for providers like Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc, but the net neutrality repeal was opposed by internet companies like Facebook Inc, Inc and Alphabet Inc.

Cox Communications Inc [COXC.UL] President Pat Esser said in an interview Monday that internet providers are committed to an open internet but want flexibility to address consumer needs. Esser said the FCC in 2015 went too far in opening the door to future rate regulation.

He hopes Congress will codify open internet rules. ISPs are not going to block or throttle websites. “It’s just not good business practice,” Esser said. “It’s become a political issue more than a rational issue.”

The U.S. Senate voted in May to reinstate net neutrality rules, but the measure is unlikely to be approved by the House of Representatives.

The FCC in December handed ISPs sweeping new powers to recast how Americans use the internet, as long as they disclose changes. The new rules took effect in June but providers have made no changes.