Federal Appeals Court Offers Mixed Ruling on Net Neutrality

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit yesterday upheld the federal government’s repeal of net neutrality in the latest ruling that impacts how companies connect people to the Internet. However, the appeals court also ruled that the FCC had overstepped in its decision to prevent state and local governments from establishing their own related rules. The mixed ruling will likely lead to continued debate over net neutrality regulation, especially on the state level. It is also seen as a victory for the Trump administration, which has supported deregulation, and FCC chair Ajit Pai, who believes the repeal is good for the economy and fosters innovation.

According to Pai, the latest decision is “a victory for consumers, broadband deployment and the free and open Internet.” 

“The decision is a victory for U.S. broadband investment and broadband consumers everywhere,” added AT&T general counsel David McAtee.

Democrat and FCC member Jessica Rosenworcel, however, believes the repeal is “on the wrong side of the American people and the wrong side of history,” and she called for continued support. “Let’s keep up the fight,” she said.

Companies such as Mozilla, Etsy and Reddit are expected to continue their fight in support of net neutrality.

“The DC Circuit Court of Appeals also remanded another piece of the order back to the FCC and told the agency to take into consideration other issues, like the effect that the repeal of protections will have on public safety,” explains CNET.

The FCC “voted to throw out the rules in a 3-to-2 party-line vote in 2017, reversing a decision made during the Obama administration,” reports The New York Times. “The rules had prohibited broadband Internet providers like Comcast and AT&T from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content.”

Yesterday’s ruling supports the FCC’s decision not to treat Internet service as a utility or common carrier, similar to how telephone service has traditionally been regulated.

“Regulation of broadband Internet has been the subject of protracted litigation, with broadband providers subjected to and then released from common-carrier regulation over the previous decade,” wrote the appeals court. “We decline to yet again flick the on-off switch of common-carrier regulation under these circumstances.”

The mixed ruling is expected to spark continued debate over Internet regulation on the state level. “Last year, California approved a law effectively restoring the Obama-era federal rules,” notes NYT, but “the Justice Department quickly challenged the move.”

“California agreed not to enforce the rules while challenges to the FCC’s order went through the courts. Tuesday’s ruling may clear a major roadblock to California’s enforcement of the law, although it is still likely to face legal challenges.”

“I think we have a good argument that we can now enforce this law,” suggested state senator Scott Wiener (D-California). “This is over all a bad ruling, but the silver lining is that we can act at the state level.”

Regardless, it seems that the battle over net neutrality and how it impacts the delivery of the Internet, entertainment media, news and information is far from over.

“It’s unclear if Tuesday’s court decision will move this legislation in either direction or if politicians on Capitol Hill will wait for results in the 2020 presidential election before their next move,” CNET comments. Candidates “including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, say that if elected they will only nominate commissioners who support net neutrality rules.”

FCC’s Net Neutrality Repeal Largely Upheld by Appeals Court, The Hollywood Reporter, 10/1/19
Ajit Pai Wins (and Loses) in Court as Net Neutrality Repeal Is Mostly Upheld, Ars Technica, 10/1/19