D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Hears Oral Arguments on Restoring Net Neutrality

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This picture was taken on the fifth floor of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. No photos were allowed beyond this point. Upon crossing this threshold, several lines were designated for counsel and witnesses entering the courtroom. At the front of the line for Petitioners stood the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) accompanied by pro bono counsel Spiegel and McDiarmid.

The ceremonial courtroom is as majestic as it sounds. Inside paintings of Appellate Court judges from the 20th century decorate the walls. An invisible divider down the center of the courtroom separates Petitioners (public interest group advocates and states’ attorneys general) from Respondents (the Federal Communications Commision (FCC) and Internet Service Providers). Avid Net Neutrality supporters, including FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Senator Ed Markey, sprinkled the audience.

For background, in December 2017, the FCC repealed the 2015 Open Internet Order which established strong and enforceable net neutrality rules. At the same time, the agency relinquished its Title II authority which allowed the agency to regulate the internet as a utility. NHMC has consistently made the case for why net neutrality rules help ensure that Latinos have equal access to limitless opportunities on the internet, an open platform that fosters education, innovation, creativity, and civic engagement. Without those bright-light rules, people of color including students, business owners, creative minds, and civilians, will have to overcome various obstacles to getting online to a universal platform for them to tell their own stories and change socioeconomic outcomes.

On February 1, 2019, the District Circuit Court heard oral arguments from the public interest groups that challenging the FCC’s net neutrality repeal. Within the first two minutes of oral arguments, the judges unleashed a firing squad of questions. After approximately five hours of presentations with only a fifteen minute break, onlookers would discover that the panel of judges had cutting questions for Petitioners and Respondents alike. Notably, NHMC’s efforts to uncover thousand of complaints that were not being considered in the FCC record were raised in several arguments throughout the day.

As we await the Court’s decision, NHMC will continue to advocate for an open internet to which Latino communities have universal access. Undoing the 2015 Open Internet Order was a mistake. That is why NHMC’s legal team has urged the Court as well as members of Congress to question the FCC on why it relinquished its Title II authority at a time when access to the internet in the 21st century is a prerequisite for students, businesses, artists, and civilians to fully participate in a digital society. Accordingly, NHMC and other public interest groups have strongly urged the Court to reinstate the Commission’s ability to regulate the internet and accelerate efforts to bridge the digital divide.

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