Industry groups sue Vermont over state's net neutrality rules

Industry groups sue Vermont over state's net neutrality rules
© Greg Nash

Internet, cable and wireless providers are suing Vermont because of the state’s efforts to impose net neutrality rules following the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of its popular national open internet regulations.

The coalition accused the state’s lawmakers of defying federal rules and arguing that their industries can’t navigate competing state laws governing internet access.

“Broadband providers are united in support of an open internet and committed to delivering the content and services consumers demand,” the groups said in a joint statement. “We oppose the actions in Vermont because states cannot use their spending and procurement authority to bypass federal laws they do not like.”

The trade groups included USTelecom, the American Cable Association and the wireless association CTIA filed their lawsuit in federal court in Vermont on Thursday.

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Earlier this year, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed an executive order requiring all internet service providers that do business with the state to treat all web traffic equally. In May, he also signed a bill codifying similar requirements.

“Our net neutrality legislation and my Executive Order demonstrate a clear commitment from Vermont’s elected officials, across branches and party lines, to preserving and promoting a free and open internet in Vermont,” Scott said in a statement on Thursday.

“While I understand consistent regulation is important to ensuring a vibrant and thriving telecom and cable sector, our obligation as a state government is to our citizens, who I strongly believe have a right to free and open access to information on the internet. In the absence of a national standard to protect that right, states must act.”

The industry lawsuit follows the Justice Department’s decision late last month to sue California for its net neutrality law, the toughest in the nation so far. California’s law went further than Vermont’s by banning discrimination from all broadband providers that operate in the state, not just the ones that do business with the government.

When the FCC voted to repeal its 2015 net neutrality rules in December 2017, it included a measure banning states from filling the void with their own rules. Net neutrality supporters are fighting back on multiple fronts, including a last-ditch effort to overturn the repeal through Congress and a multi-state lawsuit against the FCC itself seeking to block the repeal.

The latter lawsuit is likely to be the one that decides the fate of the open internet rules. A federal appeals court in Washington will hear oral arguments in December.