Washington (AFP) – An appeals court Tuesday largely backed a move by Trump administration regulators rolling back so-called “net neutrality” rules aimed at requiring internet service providers to treat all online traffic equally.
But the appeals judges stopped short of a full endorsement of the latest rulemaking, leaving the door open for states to implement their own regulations on the contentious issue.
The Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit said the Federal Communications Commission had the authority in 2018 to roll back the net neutrality rules adopted by the same agency three years earlier.
But the ruling said the FCC lacked the authority to “pre-empt” states from imposing their own net neutrality requirements, and also called for more study on the implications of the rules on public safety and internet access for disadvantaged Americans.
The ruling leaves internet regulations still murky, with more battles in court and Congress expected on the issue.
Net neutrality backers argue that clear rules are needed to prevent dominant internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from blocking or throttling services or websites for competitive reasons.
Critics of net neutrality counter that the rules could stifle investment and innovation, and claim the internet is not designed for utility-style regulation from the 1930s.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai welcomed the ruling, saying, “Today’s decision is a victory for consumers, broadband deployment, and the free and open internet.”
But FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who opposed Pai’s plan, said the court’s upholding of state regulatory authority is “huge,” adding in a tweet: “It means the fight is still on.”
Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of the telecom industry group USTelecom, welcomed the decision and said the latest FCC rule “restored the smarter, more nimble, pro-consumer and bipartisan policy framework that has guided the internet through 20 years of openness and extraordinary growth.”
Lisa Hayes of the Center for Democracy & Technology, which backed net neutrality, said Tuesday’s ruling “highlights the need for Congress and the states to act quickly to restore net neutrality protections.”