Court upholds California's net neutrality law

Appeals court agrees that FCC decision to reclassify the Internet as a Title I information service means the Commission no longer has the authority to regulate the Internet when it was once viewed as Title II telecommunications service.

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

January 28, 2022

3 Min Read
Court upholds California's net neutrality law

A US court of appeals has upheld California's tough network neutrality law, holding that the FCC's move to roll back those rules in 2017 is not enough to block the state's law.

The FCC, under the Trump administration, overturned Title II-focused network neutrality rules that viewed the Internet as a heavily regulated telecommunications service. That led California lawmakers to take up the task of creating their own law in 2018.

The appeals court held that the rollback of network neutrality rules at the FCC effectively reclassified Internet services as an information service, thus erasing its Title II authority. The FCC "no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services," the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit explained in the ruling.

The California rules, which ban blocking, throttling and certain anticompetitive paid prioritization, were poised to take effect last year after a federal judge effectively cleared the way. That was a clear blow to telcos and cable operators that argued that the FCC's rollback of the rules preempted the California law.

The Plaintiffs in the case – ACA Connects, CTAI, NCTA and US Telecom – stated they were "disappointed" in the outcome at the 9th Circuit, but "will review our options," according to CNBC.

They also lamented the ping-pong match network neutrality rules have become with each Presidential administration, arguing that Congress needs to finally settle the score. "Once again, a piecemeal approach to this issue is untenable and Congress should codify national rules for an open Internet once and for all," they wrote.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel stated on Twitter that today's ruling at the 9th Circuit is "good news," adding that the Commission needs to once again take up the issue:

Matt Wood, VP of policy and general counsel at Free Press, a network neutrality advocate, agreed.

"But while today's ruling is great news, the job isn't done," Wood said in a statement. "This win is significant because it offers protections to people in our most populous state and drives the national conversation forward. Yet tremendous as it is, we still need the Biden FCC to reclaim its authority not just for nationwide open-internet rules, but for policies promoting affordable, resilient, just and reasonable internet connections for everyone."

He said that would start with the US Senate pushing ahead with the confirmation of Gigi Sohn as the FCC's fifth commissioner (the FCC is currently divided, with two Democrats and two Republicans). The Senate Commerce Committee has set a February 2 vote on the nomination of Sohn, a Democrat.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

(Featured image source: Björn Wylezich/Alamy Stock Photo)

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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