Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court refused the request by the telecommunications industry against net neutrality. This indicated a formal end to the legal fight over a 2016 lower court decision. This upheld the Obama-era, net neutrality rules which ensures a free and open internet.
The 2015 Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) order to impose internet neutrality rules and strictly regulate broadband was already reversed by Trump’s pick for FCC chairman, Ajit Pai.
Trump’s government had repealed the request with regards to net neutrality in 2017. But the justice’s action does not revoke the 2017 repeal of the policy. The rules supported by former US President Barack Obama, intended to safeguard equal access to content on the internet, were opposed by President Donald Trump.
“According to the Supreme Court announcement, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch would grant the petitions, vacate the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (which upheld the FCC’s internet neutrality order), and remand to that court with instructions to dismiss the cases as moot.”
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the US Court of appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, recused themselves from the case. In 2017, Brett Kavanaugh dissented from the ruling upholding net neutrality rules, arguing that the rules violate the First Amendment rights of Internet service providers by preventing them from “exercising editorial control” over Internet content.
FCC’s thoughts on net neutrality
FCC is defending its net neutrality repeal against a lawsuit filed by dozens of litigants, including 22 state attorneys general, consumer advocacy groups, and tech companies.
California State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), author of the net neutrality law, supported California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s decision. Wiener said:
Of course, I very much want to see California’s net neutrality law go into effect immediately, in order to protect access to the Internet. Yet, I also understand and support the Attorney General’s rationale for allowing the DC Circuit appeal to be resolved before we move forward to defend our net neutrality law in court. After the DC Circuit appeal is resolved, the litigation relating to California’s internet neutrality law will then move forward. Even Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman appreciated the court’s statement.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who backed the net neutrality order in 2015, said on Twitter that “the commission had actually petitioned the Supreme Court to erase history and wipe out an earlier court decision upholding open internet policies. But today the Supreme Court refused to do so.”
The legal battle over net neutrality might still continue and could possibly reach the Supreme Court again in a separate case. Senior counsel John Bergmayer of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge said, “The Supreme Court decision is a good news for supporters of internet neutrality because it means that the DC Circuit court’s previous decision upholding both the FCC’s classification of broadband as a telecommunications service, and its rules prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or degrading Internet content, remains in place. Much of the current FCC’s argument against net neutrality depends on ignoring or contradicting the DC Circuit’s earlier findings, but now that these are firmly established as binding law, the Pai FCC’s case is on even weaker ground than before.”
The new FCC rules that went into effect in June, gave internet service providers greater power to regulate the content that customers access. Though they are now the subject of a separate legal fight after being challenged by many groups that backed net neutrality.
The net neutrality repeal turned out to be good for providers like Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc. It was opposed by internet companies like Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc, and Alphabet Inc as the repeal could lead to higher costs.