D.C. Circuit Court Upholds Most of 2017 Net Neutrality Order; Vacates State Preemption

On October 1, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its per curiam decision on the appeal of the FCC’s 2017 net neutrality order, also known as the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. Although the court upheld the Order in large part, it vacated part and remanded part back to the FCC to address three issues in which it found the Order inadequate: “(1) The Order failed to examine the implications of its decisions for public safety; (2) the Order does not sufficiently explain what reclassification will mean for regulation of pole attachments; and (3) the agency did not adequately address Petitioners’ concerns about the effects of broadband reclassification on the Lifeline Program.” The court vacated that part of the Order pre-empting any state or local requirement that “would effectively impose rules or requirements that [the FCC] repealed or decided to refrain from imposing in this order or that would impose more stringent requirements for any aspect of broadband service that [the FCC] address[ed] in this order.”

The court upheld the FCC’s decisions to restore the classification of broadband Internet access service as a less regulated “information service;” reinstate the private mobile service classification of mobile broadband Internet access service; eliminate the Internet Conduct Standard and the Bright Line Rules; and adopt enhanced transparency requirements that mandated ISPs to disclose information about their practices to consumers, entrepreneurs, and the FCC.

Chairman Pai, alongside Commissioners O’Rielly and Carr, were pleased with the court’s decision to uphold the majority of the Order. Chairman Pai said, “Today’s decision is a victory for consumers, broadband deployment, and the free and open Internet. The court affirmed the FCC’s decision to repeal 1930s utility-style regulation of the Internet imposed by the prior Administration.” Commissioner O’Rielly said, “It is heartening to see a court get most of the decision correct. … At the same time, vacating the preemption provisions seems to misread precedent and ignores the technology’s structure, which cannot be segmented into intrastate portions. Inevitably, this will lead to Commission case-by-case preemption efforts and more litigation.” Commissioner Carr said, “Today’s decision is a big win for a free and open Internet and for U.S. leadership in 5G.”

Commissioners Rosenworcel said, “Today’s court decision vacates the FCC’s unlawful effort to block states and localities from protecting an open internet for their citizens. From small towns to big cities, from state houses to governors’ executive actions, states and localities have been stepping in because the FCC shirked its duties. In addition, the court took the agency to task for disregarding its duty to consider how its decision threatens public safety, Lifeline service, and broadband infrastructure.”

Commissioner Starks said, “Above all else, today’s decision breathes new life into the fight for an open internet. It confirms that states can continue to step into the void left by this FCC. To that end, it is a validation of those states that have already sought to protect consumers, and a challenge to those that haven’t yet acted to think hard about how to protect their citizens.”