Net Neutrality Fight Heads to States, Capitol Hill

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dropped a long-awaited ruling Tuesday on the FCC’s rollback of the Obama-era net neutrality rules, largely upholding the Republican-led repeal. But the court knocked down the FCC’s attempt to broadly override state efforts to craft their own net neutrality rules. An FCC senior official told reporters the ruling leaves open the possibility of the FCC challenging state laws on a case-by-case basis. Goldstein & Russell partner Kevin Russell, who argued against the FCC’s repeal, said that would be a “difficult task.”

 No one thinks this fight is over, but the next battleground may be in California. Remember: The state passed its own net neutrality rules in 2018 but agreed to hold off on enforcing them while the FCC’s rules faced a legal challenge. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra hailed the D.C. court for rebuffing “the FCC’s effort to preempt state net neutrality laws through regulation,” but his office said it was still evaluating its next steps in light of the federal ruling (which could still be reconsidered by the full complement of D.C. Circuit judges and/or the Supreme Court), according to a dispatch from POLITICO California reporters Jeremy B. White and Katy Murphy. Full Color Future Chair Mignon Clyburn, who as a Democratic FCC commissioner voted to approve the repealed rules, told POLITICO that the ruling will “allow each state to determine its own net neutrality future.” She added, “Any state wishing to protect entrepreneurs should follow the lead of California, Colorado, and Vermont in enacting laws protecting entrepreneurs and people of color with strong net neutrality requirements.”

— Over on the Hill, the ruling renewed calls for federal net neutrality legislation. Rep. Greg Walden, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Republicans in the chamber want to work on a “serious, bipartisan approach to creating a national standard.” Bipartisan legislation may prove as elusive as ever, though. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) marked Tuesday’s ruling by pushing his Save the Internet Act, urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring it to a vote. That House-passed measure (H.R. 1644) would restore the Obama-era rules and has proven deeply unpopular with Republicans; McConnell previously declared it “dead on arrival” in the Senate.