Skip to main content

Court rules against net neutrality, but leaves room for states to push their own rules

(Image credit: Flickr via Credo Action)

A federal court decision on Tuesday upheld the FCC's 2018 repeal of net neutrality, which reduced regulations on broadband providers under the guise of making the internet "more open." FCC chairman Ajit Pai called the ruling "a big victory for consumers," while commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who opposed the repeal, said the FCC was "on the wrong side of the American people and the wrong side of history."

The full ruling is a complex 186 page document, but one of the key takeaways is that the court didn't rule completely in the FCC's favor, and opened the door for state governments to enact some degree of internet legislation themselves. The FCC had argued that states shouldn't be allowed to apply their own regulations—California, for example, passed a law that restored many of the net neutrality protections the FCC had repealed. The ruling goes into detail (many times) as to why it rejected the FCC's argument here, but at the most basic level, as a regulatory body the FCC doesn't get to overrule state law:

"As a matter of both basic agency law and federalism, the power to preempt the States' laws must be conferred by Congress. It cannot be a mere byproduct of self-made agency policy. Doubly so here where preemption treads into an area—State regulation of intrastate communications—over which Congress expressly 'deni[ed]' the Commission regulatory authority."

The FCC may well continue to challenge state regulations with different arguments. This isn't the last fight over net neutrality, and Pai said in a statement "we look forward to addressing on remand the narrow issues that the court identified."

There were other issues aside from the FCC's overreach on state law. The court said that the FCC had not adequately considered public safety with its 2018 "Open Internet" order, and that "the harms from blocking and throttling during a public safety emergency" would be "irreparable." It also said the commission didn't give adequate thought to how the repeal would affect low-income consumers.

There's also some weird stuff in the opinions—one judge quotes Macbeth, and another doesn't really seem to understand how businesses actually compete with one another.

You can read the full document here, and catch up on the last few years of net neutrality rulings in our article here.

When he's not 50 hours into a JRPG or an opaque ASCII roguelike, Wes is probably playing the hottest games of three years ago. He oversees features, seeking out personal stories from PC gaming's niche communities. 50% pizza by volume.