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FCC officially publishes net neutrality repeal

The action starts the clock for legal challenges and last-ditch congressional action to preserve the Obama-era regulations.

The Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules will be no more in two months: The agency has taken the final step in removing the regulations from its rule book.

But that may not be the end of the story. Dozens of groups are expected to file lawsuits challenging the repeal, and Democrats in Congress will push to reverse the FCC's action.

A man holds up a "Don't Throttle Me" placard in front of a New York City Verizon store to protest the repeal of net neutrality rules.

In December, protesters headed to Verizon stores to sound off about the repeal of net neutrality rules.

Sarah Tew/CNET

On Thursday, the FCC published the final notice of the repeal in the Federal Register, which starts a 60-day clock until the rules are removed. The effective date for the repeal is April 23. The FCC voted to repeal the rules on Dec. 14.

Net neutrality is the idea that all traffic on the internet is treated equally. In 2015, under President Barack Obama, a Democrat-led FCC passed rules that barred broadband companies from slowing or blocking access to certain websites or services. It also prohibited internet service providers from charging companies a fee to access customers more quickly.

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Supporters of net neutrality said the rules were necessary to ensure broadband companies don't abuse their power as gatekeepers of the internet. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter supported the rules. But broadband providers say the rules were too onerous and stifled investment. Broadband providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon support the FCC's repeal of the rules.

The publication of the repeal in the Federal Register is an important procedural milestone because it sets into motion a countdown for challenging the rule change. Lawsuits challenging the repeal can be filed as soon as the rules have been published. Several net neutrality supporters and attorneys general in more than 20 states have already filed petitions with the courts. But they will have to refile their lawsuits within a 10-day window following the publication in the Federal Register.

The publication of the order to repeal the rules also starts the clock on a deadline for Congress to pass legislation that could nullify the FCC's actions. Using the Congressional Review Act, Congress has 60 legislative days to pass a resolution that would reverse the repeal and keep the rules in place. Democrats say that, with the promise Republican Susan Collins of Maine will side with them, they have 50 votes in the Senate.

They need just one more vote to pass a measure in the Senate. But the legislation would still have to pass the House of Representatives where it would likely face a much higher hurdle. And President Donald Trump would also have the option to veto if it gets through the House.

Meanwhile several states such as New Jersey, Montana and New York are making their own net neutrality policies. Governors in these states have signed executive orders requiring service providers that do business with the state adhere to the principles of net neutrality. That means broadband providers wouldn't be allowed to throttle traffic or create internet "fast lanes." 

FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat who has defended the 2015 rules, said she is "both disappointed and hopeful. Disappointed that this is one more anticonsumer notch on this FCC's belt, but hopeful that the arc of history is bent in favor of net neutrality protections."

Said Clyburn: "Whether it is litigation, state action, or some other mechanism that brings it about, I am sure that robust net neutrality protections will prevail with the American public."

First published Feb. 21 at 3:54 p.m. PT.
Updated Feb. 22 at 6:28 a.m. PT: This story was updated to reflect that the rules have been published and adds a comment from FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. 

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