US Appeals Court Will Not Overturn California Net Neutrality Ruling

US Court of Appeals will not reconsider its decision to uphold California’s net neutrality law, but telecom groups may appeal to Supreme Court

The US Appeals on Wednesday said it will not reconsider its decision to uphold California’s net neutrality law.

In February 2021 California won a legal victory when the US District Court for the Eastern District of California denied a preliminary injunction from industry groups seeking to block California’s net neutrality legislation.

But the industry groups, which included the American Cable Association, the wireless trade group CTIA, the cable trade group NCTA and US Telecom, appealed the decision.

internet net neutrality (C) Peshkova - Shutterstock

FCC clash

Meanwhile California was engaged in a separate battle with the federal government over the matter.

In September 2018 California had clashed directly with the Trump controlled Federal Communication Commission (FCC), after the US regulator controversially voted in 2017 to federally “roll back” Obama-era net neutrality rules for the United States.

The Californian net neutrality rule (SB 822) was designed to combat the FCC overturning those rules that prevented internet service providers from selectively blocking, slowing or speeding up apps and websites.

In October 2018, the US Justice Department filed an injunction to stop California implementing its own net neutrality law.

The Trump administration argued that the FCC, not the US states, held exclusive authority to set net neutrality rules.

The Biden administration however had a different take on this and did not continue the DoJ litigation.

But that still left the lawsuit against California brought by the industry telecom groups

Appeals Court ruling

Reuters reported that the Court of Appeals on Wednesday said it will not reconsider its decision in January to uphold California’s net neutrality law.

A three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals had in January this year ruled 3-0 that a 2017 decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reverse federal internet protections could not bar state action.

They therefore rejected a challenge from telecom and industry groups to block California’s net neutrality law, which aims to protect the open internet.

The US appeals court then on Wednesday rejected a petition for a rehearing by the full court.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a senior counselor at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society was quoted by Reuters as saying that it was “notable that not a single judge on the nation’s largest court of appeals even asked for a vote on the industry’s rehearing petition.”

The telecom groups could now ask the US Supreme Court to hear the case.

Split FCC

The FCC under former President Barack Obama (and then vice president Joe Biden) had adopted net neutrality rules in 2015.

Those laws were designed to stop service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content.

But Obama’s net neutrality laws were overturned in 2017 by the FCC under President Donald Trump, a Republican.

john oliver hbo fcc net neutrality

California’s legislature responded by adopting a state law requiring net neutrality in August 2018.

Currently the FCC remains divided 2-2 over the matter, after Trump’s FCC chairman Ajit Pai stepped down from his post on 20 January 2021,

Democrats have been unable to launch proceedings to reinstate net neutrality, Reuters reported.

In March, the Senate Commerce Committee voted 14-14 to advance the nomination of Gigi Sohn to serve on the FCC, which would likely break the deadlock.

However the full US Senate must hold a “discharge” vote on the nominations in addition to a final confirmation vote, Reuters reported.