Photographer: Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images

AT&T Seeks Supreme Court Review on Net Neutrality Rule

  • Appeal adds to pressure on rule that FCC might weaken
  • Rule bars service providers from slowing some web traffic

AT&T Inc. and other broadband providers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Obama-era "net neutrality" rule barring internet service providers from slowing or blocking rivals’ content.

The appeals, filed Thursday, will put new pressure on a rule enacted in 2015 when the Federal Communications Commission was under Democratic control. Filing a separate appeal from AT&T were the United States Telecom Association, a trade group, and broadband service provider CenturyLink Inc.

Now under Republican leadership, the FCC is already considering a plan to replace and weaken the rules. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to remove strong legal authority that critics say over-regulates telephone and cable providers and that defenders say is needed to enforce fair treatment of web traffic.

The embattled net neutrality rules bar internet service providers such as AT&T, Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. from blocking or slowing some web traffic in favor of other content -- their own or a paying customer’s.

"The practical stakes are immense," AT&T said in its appeal of a ruling that backed the FCC. The company pointed to a dissenting opinion that said the regulation “fundamentally transforms the internet” and will have a “staggering” impact on infrastructure investment.

The rules are backed by tech companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc.

Pai, elevated to chairman by President Donald Trump, hasn’t said when the agency may take final action on the replacement rule. The prospect has produced a public outpouring, with the FCC’s website receiving more than 22 million comments.

Republicans say the Obama-era rules discourages investment and hamstrings broadband companies. The rules were passed at the urging of President Barack Obama. Democrats say they’re needed to prevent unfair treatment of web traffic by companies that control access to homes and smartphones.

A federal appeals court upheld the rules last year.

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