#NetNeutrality: Appeals Court Provides a ‘Net’ Win for States’ Rights, but Upholds the End to Federal Protection

Demonstrators rally outside the Federal Communications Commission building to protest against the end of net neutrality rules Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty)

A federal appeals court has affirmed the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to end net neutrality at the national level—but the court has OK’d the ability of state and local governments to set their own rules when it comes to the issue.

Tuesday’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit regards the matter of whether internet providers are allowed to slow down, block or impose fees on websites or services they don’t like or are in competition with, the Associated Press reports.

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Under the Obama administration, the FCC passed rules prohibiting major internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from favoring some service providers over others, barring them from blocking sites or slowing sites’ transmission speeds and the like.

But in 2017, the FCC under the Trump administration repealed such protections, prompting a challenge from net neutrality advocates who say the right to access the internet freely is akin to the right of free speech.

Tuesday’s ruling is a mixed bag, legal experts say. While on one hand, it allows state and local governments to set their own rules regarding net neutrality, the ruling also sets up legal challenges to state rules on a case-by-case basis. Per AP:

While the appeals court ruling handed Trump-appointed regulators a partial victory in affirming the FCC repeal, consumer advocates and other groups viewed the ruling as a victory for states and local governments seeking to put in their own net neutrality rules.

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“The pathway has been cleared,” said Ryan Singel, a fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. “They can still be challenged, but that challenge just became easier for them to win.”

But it’s not a slam-dunk, said Daniel Lyons, a professor at Boston College Law School. State laws will now be taken up on a case-by-case basis to see if they conflict with federal policy. Lyons said he anticipates most of the state efforts will fail.

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With that, net neutrality advocates say the fight must continue, and the appeals court ruling means that much of the fight will likely bubble up from the state level. For instance, in response to the 2017 FCC repeal of the Obama era protections, California passed the strongest net neutrality law, the AP notes.

However, as the New York Times reports:

Tuesday’s ruling may clear a major roadblock to California’s enforcement of the law, although it is still likely to face legal challenges.

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After Tuesday’s ruling was announced, Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the two Democrats on the five-member FCC, commented that the agency’s 2017 repeal was “on the wrong side of the American people and the wrong side of history.

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“Let’s keep up the fight,” she wrote.

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