A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday rejected the decision of the Federal Communications Commission to declare that states cannot pass their own net neutrality laws and ordered the agency to review some key aspects of its 2017 repeal of rules set by the Obama administration.
The court, which upheld most of the FCC’s December, 2017, order, said the agency “failed to examine the implications of its decisions for public safety” and must also review how its decision will affect a government subsidy program for low-income users.
The decision means the more than 10-year-old debate over net neutrality will continue to drag on for months or more likely years. The ruling is a setback to the Trump administration’s efforts to reverse rules adopted under former President Barack Obama in 2015 that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai said the decision affirmed the FCC’s “decision to repeal 1930s utility-style regulation of the internet. A free and open internet is what we have today. A free and open internet is what we’ll continue to have going forward.”
Mr. Pai added that the FCC would address “the narrow issues that the court identified.”
Championed by large tech companies and consumer groups, net neutrality was formally adopted by the FCC in 2015. Major telecommunications companies argued it limited their ability to offer new services to content providers, and under the Trump administration, the FCC overturned the policy.
California passed sweeping state net neutrality protections, but agreed not to enforce the measure pending the court challenge.
The court threw out the part of the order that barred all states from setting net neutrality rules and argued that states were pre-empted by federal law.
“The commission lacked the legal authority to categorically abolish all 50 states statutorily conferred authority to regulate intrastate communications,” the court said.
The FCC could still make “provision-specific arguments” to seek to block individual aspects of state net neutrality rules.
Justice Stephen Williams wrote in his dissenting opinion that “On my colleagues’ view, state policy trumps federal; or, more precisely, the most draconian state policy trumps all else.”
The Trump administration rules were a win for internet providers such as AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc., but opposed by companies such as Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.
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