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On October 27, the FCC voted 3-2 to adopt an Order on Remand in response to a 2019 decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (covered by InfoBytes here). The D.C. Circuit’s decision mostly ratified the Commission’s 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Order that reversed the net neutrality rules barring internet service providers from slowing down or speeding up web traffic based on business relationships, however it remanded three “discrete issues” for the FCC’s further consideration, including how the reversal of the net neutrality rules could affect public safety issues. A Fact Sheet accompanying the Order on Remand stated that the FCC found “no basis to alter” its conclusions in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, noting that, among other things, “[n]either the Commission’s decision to return broadband Internet access service to its longstanding classification as an information service, nor its decision to eliminate the Internet conduct rules, is likely to adversely impact public safety.”
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Order (Order), which preempted states from issuing their own net neutrality rules on requirements that the FCC “‘repealed or decided to refrain from imposing’ in the Order or that [are] ‘more stringent’ than the Order.”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.”
On February 22, the FCC formally published its Restoring Internet Freedom Order (Order) to overturn the 2015 Title II Order (known as, “Net Neutrality” rules). As previously covered in InfoBytes, the FCC voted last December to remove the restrictions barring internet service providers (ISPs) from slowing down or speeding up web traffic based on business relationships. Among other things, the Order’s “light-touch regulatory framework” will require ISPs to “publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of its broadband internet access services sufficient to enable consumers to make informed choices regarding the purchase and use of such services and entrepreneurs and other small businesses to develop, market, and maintain internet offerings. Such disclosure shall be made via a publicly available, easily accessible website or through transmittal to the Commission.” The Order takes effect April 23. The FCC will publish a separate document in the Federal Register announcing the effective date of certain delayed amendatory instructions and the Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, and Order.
As discussed previously in InfoBytes, two governors signed executive orders last month designed to protect net neutrality in their states.
On January 24, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order to protect net neutrality in his state, while earlier on January 22, Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed his own executive order designed to “safeguard internet freedom.” Both executive orders have been issued in response to the FCC’s Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order released last December to rollback the 2015 Open Internet Order rules (known as “Net Neutrality” rules), which removes the restrictions barring providers from slowing down or speeding up web traffic based on business relationships. Under Governor Cuomo’s direction, New York State’s government must refrain from entering into any internet service contracts with ISPs that do not agree to follow the Net Neutrality rules. Similarly, Governor Bullock ordered the procurement process for telecommunication services to require that contract recipients adhere to the neutrality principles.
As previously covered in InfoBytes, a coalition of 22 state attorneys general filed a protective petition for review in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the FCC’s Order. See here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Net Neutrality rules.
State AGs file protective petition to stop rollback of net neutrality rules; Senate Democrats announce plans to reverse FCC rule
On January 16, a coalition of 22 state attorneys general filed a protective petition for review in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the United States to block the FCC’s Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order released last December to rollback the 2015 Open Internet Order rules (known as “Net Neutrality” rules). As previously covered in InfoBytes, the rollback removes the restrictions barring providers from slowing down or speeding up web traffic based on business relationships, and places the enforcement authority of the new regulatory framework with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
In the petition, the states allege violations of the Administrative Procedure Act’s notice-and-comment rulemaking requirements, and claim that the FCC's actions with respect to Net Neutrality were “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.” According to a press release issued by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman:
The FCC’s new rule fails to justify the Commission’s departure from its long-standing policy and practice of defending net neutrality, while misinterpreting and disregarding critical record evidence on industry practices and harm to consumers and businesses. . . Moreover, the rule wrongly reclassifies broadband internet as a Title I information service, rather than a Title II telecommunications service, based on an erroneous and unreasonable interpretation of the Telecommunications Act. Finally, the rule improperly and unlawfully includes sweeping preemption of state and local laws.
Separately that same day, Senate Democrats announced plans to formally introduce a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to reverse the FCC’s vote and restore the Net Neutrality rules. Once the rule is submitted to both houses of Congress, the resolution will be formally introduced, published in the Federal Register, and voted upon within 60 legislative days.
On December 14, the FCC voted 3-2 to overturn the 2015 Open Internet Order rules (known as, “Net Neutrality” rules) which mandate that internet service providers (ISPs) treat all web content equally. The FCC released a draft order in November, which outlined the new framework for ISPs, including removing the restrictions barring the providers from slowing down or speeding up web traffic based on business relationships. ISPs are now required to publicly disclose information about their practices including any paid or affiliated prioritization of web content. The FCC places the enforcement authority of the new regulatory framework with the FTC. The order is effective upon OMB approval of the new requirements for ISP public disclosures.
FCC, FTC Issue Joint Statement on Broadband Data Security Regulation; Senate Resolution Introduced to Repeal FCC Privacy Rules
On March 1, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen issued a Joint Statement announcing an FCC Order (Stay Order) staying the enactment of certain data security provisions (§ 64.2005) adopted by the Commission late last year as part of its Broadband Privacy Order while the Commission and Congress consider an appropriate resolution of the broader Net Neutrality proceeding. Absent a stay, the rule was set to go into effect on March 2. Separate and apart from explaining the Stay Order, the Joint Statement effectively serves as a commitment by both the FCC and FTC to return “jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy and data security practices … to the FTC, the nation’s expert agency with respect to these important subjects.” Moreover, the statement also highlights what might be considered a guiding principle behind the new leadership at both the FCC and the FTC – namely, that “[a]ll actors . . . should be subject to the same rules” and “[t]he federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another.”
The Stay Order arose out of an October 2016 decision to amend the Broadband Privacy Order to include new “sector-specific privacy rules” that the FCC determined were “necessary to address the distinct characteristics of telecommunications services.” This final version, the Broadband Privacy Order – was published in the Federal Register (81 Fed. Reg. 87,274) on December 2, 2016.
This amendment marked a substantial change from the original language included in the order as proposed back in March 2016, where the Commission “propose[d] to apply the traditional privacy requirements of the Communications Act to . . . broadband Internet access service (BIAS).” Then-commissioner and current FCC Chairman Pai strongly disagreed with the amendment at the time, filing a dissenting statement in which he argued, that “it makes no sense” for the FCC to enact “rules that apply very different regulatory regimes based on the identity of the online actor” because, among other reasons, it will inhibit competition in the online advertising market and also “lead to consumer confusion about which online companies can and cannot use their data.” Thereafter, eleven separate timely petitions to reconsider the October 2016 Order were filed, along with a petition requesting that the Commission stay the effective date of the Order.
The decision to delay the enactment of the new privacy regulations relied on Chairman Pai’s earlier argument that the data security rule as amended is not consistent with current FTC privacy standards, and thus found the March 2 effective date to be based on the incorrect underlying assumption that “carriers should already be largely in compliance with these requirements because the reasonableness standard adopted in [the] Order . . . resemble the obligation to which they were previously subject pursuant to Section 5 of the FTC Act.” As made clear by Chairman Pai in the Joint Statement, “[t]he stay will remain in place only until the FCC is able to rule on a petition for reconsideration of its privacy rule.”
Notably, shortly after the release of the Joint Statement, on March 7, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, introduced a joint resolution to formally provide for “congressional disapproval” of 81 Fed. Reg. 87,274, i.e., the Broadband Privacy Order referenced above, under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA is a 1996 law that empowers Congress to repeal federal regulations. According to a statement released by his office, Sen. Flake—who has long opposed the privacy regulations at issue—sent a letter back in January of last year to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler expressing concerns that the FCC is “overreaching its authority” with its planned broadband regulations. The Arizona Senator thereafter, on May 11, 2016, chaired a Privacy, Technology and the Law Subcommittee hearing seeking “answers on the legality of the proposed FCC rules and the consequences for consumers and the future of the internet.” And, most recently, on March 1, Sen. Flake wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed laying out his position on the matter.
On May 11, the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “Examining the Proposed FCC Privacy Rules.” Present at the hearing were witnesses FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, and FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen. The focal point of the hearing was the FCC’s proposed rule (which comes after its Open Internet Order released in February 2015, designed to preserve net neutrality) on broadband internet services, which is, according to proponents of the proposal, intended to ensure that consumers’ personal information is adequately protected when Internet Service Providers (ISP) collect information on consumers using their products. According to FCC Chairman Wheeler’s opening remarks, the FCC’s proposed rule governing the privacy and security of consumer data is built on “transparency, choice, and security.” Commission members Pai and O’Reilly oppose the proposal, with Commissioner Pai commenting at the hearing that the proposal imposes “stringent regulation” on ISPs, in spite of Commissioner Wheeler’s November 2015 statement before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology that the FCC “would ‘not be regulating the edge providers differently’ from ISPs.” In contrast to the FCC’s proposal, the FTC maintains a unified approach toward regulating ISPs and other online actors. Speaking to the FTC’s efforts to protect consumer information, Chairwoman Ramirez’s and Commissioner Ohlhausen’s joint testimony summarized the FTC’s enforcement, policy, and education work related to consumer privacy and highlighted recent FTC and FCC joint enforcement actions. According to Senator Leahy’s (D-VT) opening remarks, the FCC’s recent proposal raises the question as to whether FCC regulation of specialized broadband privacy issues is “unnecessary in light of the FTC’s general enforcement power.” Advocates of the FCC’s proposal, such as Senator Leahy, maintain that the FTC’s case-specific enforcement power cannot be a substitute for the FCC’s “expert rulemaking process”; while those in opposition, such as FCC Commissioner Pai, argue that the proposal “makes little, if any, sense.” Comments on the FCC’s proposal are due by May 27, 2016, with the reply comment period ending June 27, 2016.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “How the new administration sets the tone for 2021” at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP in consumer finance at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable