Court Won't Reconsider Net Neutrality Repeal

In a defeat for net neutrality advocates, a federal appellate court has refused to reconsider its earlier decision upholding the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of the Obama-era open internet rules.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals didn't give a reason for its refusal to re-hear the matter.

The move leaves in place a ruling issued in October, when a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit largely rejected challenges to the FCC's decision to revoke regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking or throttling traffic, and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.

The decision stemmed from a challenge to the FCC's December 2017 vote to repeal open internet rules that were passed just two years earlier.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who shepherded the repeal, says the Obama-era rules were “heavy handed” and depressed investment.

Net neutrality proponents say the rules are necessary to prevent broadband providers from limiting consumers' ability to access streaming video, search engines and other online services and content.

A coalition of tech companies, consumer advocacy groups, state attorneys general and city officials urged the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the FCC's repeal and reinstate the 2015 rules.

Among other arguments, the attorneys general and city officials said the FCC didn't take into account that the repeal could harm public safety. They pointed to Verizon's decision to slow down service to firefighters battling blazes in California this summer.

Even though the October ruling largely rejected arguments made by net neutrality proponents, the appellate judges sent the matter back to the FCC with instructions to examine the implications of the repeal on public safety, the Lifeline program (which subsidizes broadband) and regulations regarding utility poles.

The October decision also vacated rules by the FCC that would have categorically blocked states from passing or enforcing their own broadband laws.

Advocacy group Free Press said it was disappointed by the court's refusal to rehear the case, and would consider its legal options.

“We’ll keep making the case in Congress, in statehouses and in future FCC proceedings about the need to restore the vital nondiscrimination rules that Chairman Pai ripped away,” Free Press Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood stated late Thursday. “We need these kinds of protections for internet users, for the FCC to promote broadband competition and adoption, and for the agency to uphold its public-safety mandates.”

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