The US Supreme Court has declined to hear a net neutrality appeal that could have reduced US regulators’ ability to pass future neutrality regulations and may have had an impact on ongoing challenges that aim to reinstate net neutrality rules.
Network neutrality forbids providers from creating paid “fast lanes” that offer better service for certain products or users.
Under Barack Obama’s administration, the FCC passed neutrality rules in 2015, effectively allowing it to regulate broadband in a similar way to telephone services.
The rules were confirmed in 2016 by the DC Circuit court, which also confirmed the FCC’s authority to put such regulations into place.
The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal to the 2016 ruling.
The appeal was unusual in that the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules have already been repealed under the current administration, following a Commission vote last December in which members voted 3-2 along party lines.
The Supreme Court case therefore could not have had any effect upon the now-repealed regulations themselves, but aimed rather to challenge the FCC’s authority to pass such regulations at all.
It also aimed to remove the lower court’s verdict from the books so that it couldn’t be used as a precedent, something that could prove significant given the ongoing legal actions that challenge the FCC’s 2017 repeal of net neutrality.
Internet firms such as Facebook, Amazon, Google parent Alphabet and Firefox developer Mozilla are in favour of net neutrality, arguing it prevents services providers from levying unfair charges on their businesses.
Those companies are suing the FCC over its decision.
Twenty-two US states also demanded the return of net neutrality in a legal brief filed in August.
The current head of the FCC, on the other hand, Trump appointee Ajit Pai, argues the repeal could benefit users as it gives network providers more flexibility to offer a wider variety of services.
The new FCC position took effect in June.
California has voted in new net neutrality laws, but the Department of Justice has taken legal action to prevent them from coming into effect in January.
The Supreme Court’s brief order noted that Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas granted the industry’s request to set aside the decision.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh were both recused from deciding whether to take up the case.