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D.C. Circuit upholds majority of FCC order overturning net neutrality rules

Courts Appellate D.C. Circuit Net Neutrality FCC

Courts

On October 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a decision, which mostly ratifies the FCC’s 2017 reversal of the net neutrality rules barring internet service providers (ISPs) from slowing down or speeding up web traffic based on business relationships. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Notably, however, the decision vacates a portion of the FCC’s 2018 Restoring Internet Freedom Order (Order), which preempted states from issuing their own net neutrality rules on requirements that the FCC “‘repealed or decided to refrain from imposing’ in the Order or that [are] ‘more stringent’ than the Order.”

The D.C. Circuit held that the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband internet access as a Title I service under the Telecommunications Act—allowing for a “light-touch” regulatory framework for ISPs instead of the more heavily regulated Title II—deserves Chevron deference. The appellate court also noted that while “[p]etitioners dispute that the transparency rule, market forces, or existing antitrust and consumer protection laws can adequately protect internet openness. . . . [we] are ultimately unpersuaded.”

The D.C. Circuit also concluded that the FCC failed to adequately address how the reversal of the net neutrality rules could affect public safety issues, holding that the FCC must address this issue. The appellate court stressed that “[u]nlike most harms to edge providers incurred because of discriminatory practices by broadband providers, the harms from blocking and throttling during a public safety emergency are irreparable.” Additionally, the appellate court instructed the FCC to revisit its analysis on how the reversal will affect the regulation of pole attachments as well as low-income households that receive the internet through an FCC subsidy program. Furthermore, while the appellate court concluded that the FCC overreached its authority in prohibiting states from passing their own net neutrality rules, Judge Williams—who concurred in part and dissented in parted—reasoned that the internet cannot be divided into state markets, and that state actions “would frustrate an agency’s authorized policy.”

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