California's net neutrality laws pass another legal hurdle

A US court of appeals declined to reconsider a January ruling that opens the door to California's net neutrality legislation. Now the telecom industry must decide if it wants to take the issue to the US Supreme Court.

"The 9th Circuit just denied the effort to rehear its decision upholding California's #netneutrality law," tweeted FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel this week. "This is big. Because when the FCC rolled back its open Internet policies, states stepped in. I support net neutrality and we need once again to make it the law of the land."

Officials representing the US telecom industry declined to say what they might do next, including whether they would take their case to the Supreme Court.

The California rules, which ban blocking, throttling and certain anticompetitive paid prioritization, received a 3-0 green light from a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in January. 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 court explained in its ruling.

The FCC is headquartered in Washington, DC.  (Source: B Christopher/Alamy Stock Photo)
The FCC is headquartered in Washington, DC.
(Source: B Christopher/Alamy Stock Photo)

That was a clear blow to telcos and cable operators that argued that the FCC's rollback of the rules preempted the California law. Broadly, the US telecom industry has argued that net neutrality rules aren't necessary, and that state-level rules will create a complex patchwork of telecom regulations.

The developments in California come as Democrats continue to push for the confirmation of Gigi Sohn as the FCC's fifth commissioner at the federal level (the FCC is currently divided, with two Democrats and two Republicans). If she is confirmed, that could pave the way for the agency to resurrect the net neutrality laws instituted during the Obama administration but rescinded during the Trump administration.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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