FCC Blow As Court Rules US States Allowed Own Net Neutrality Laws

The net neutrality debate in the United States has taking a fresh twist after a mixed ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

In February this year the US federal appeals court began hearing oral arguments on the Trump administration’s controversial decision to roll-back net neutrality laws in the United States.

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) had been facing tough questions over its decision to overturn the Obama-era rules, and faced a legal challenge in the US federal court system from a number of US states.

Mixed ruling

A group of 22 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia had asked the appeals court to reinstate the rules and to block the FCC’s effort to pre-empt states from imposing their own rules guaranteeing an open internet. Mozilla is also part of the court case.

And now the US appeals court has issued its mixed ruling on the matter.

It largely upheld the FCC repeal of the net neutrality law, which prevented ISPs in the US from blocking or throttling traffic.

But significantly, the court also ruled that the federal government cannot block states from passing their own net neutrality laws.

According to Reuters, the court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission had made an error when it declared that states cannot pass their own net neutrality laws and ordered the communication’s watchdog to review some key aspects of its 2017 repeal of rules set by the Obama administration.

But importantly, it left open the possibility the FCC could seek to block state efforts on a case-by-case basis.

ISP dilemma

This ruling effectively causes something of a dilemma for ISPs in the US, as it could subject internet providers to a variety of state regulations on internet traffic.

Reuters quoted Verizon Communications (which was in favour of overturning the net neutrality laws) as saying that the ruling “underscores the need for Congress to adopt national legislation that provides protections for consumers while avoiding a disruptive, inconsistent patchwork of state Internet regulation.”

The US Congress has so far failed to pass legislation that would end the debate.

The US appeals court also ruled that the FCC acted properly when it overturned a 2015 decision that had classified broadband internet as a utility-style service – a decision which handed the FCC sweeping authority to regulate it and instead classified it as less regulated information service.

But the court also reportedly found the agency “failed to examine the implications of its decisions for public safety” and must also review how its decision will impact a government subsidy program for low-income users.

California is one of the US states that has already adopted sweeping state net neutrality protections, but it agreed not to enforce the measure pending the court challenge.

It was swiftly challenged by the US Justice Department, which quickly filed an injunction to stop the Californian law.

It remains to be seen how quickly US states like California enforces its net neutrality protections, and what action the FCC will take when it does.

Quiz: The past, present and future of 4G networks.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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