Supreme Court Declines to Hear Net Neutrality Challenge
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The Supreme Court yesterday declined to hear a case that challenged a lower court's decision to uphold the FCC's 2015 net neutrality order.
The case was brought by ISPs that wanted the high court to wipe out a 2016 D.C. Court of Appeals ruling that rejected a challenge to the FCC's now-defunct open internet order. At the time, the court found that the commission was within its right to reclassify broadband as a telecom service in order to regulate ISPs.
The Supreme Court said today that Justice Thomas, Justice Alito and Justice Gorsuch "would grant the petitions, vacate the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and remand to that court with instructions to dismiss the cases as moot." But four justices need to agree to take a case, and Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh had recused themselves.
Net neutrality supporters shouldn't get their hopes up too much, though. The 2016 ruling will remain in effect, but it doesn't pack much of a punch anymore. The FCC under President Donald Trump moved quickly to reverse Obama-era protections. Mostly, this just allows those opposed to that move to continue pursuing legal challenges to the Trump-era reversal, like Public Knowledge.
"While the current FCC has repealed [the 2015] rules -- a decision Public Knowledge is currently challenging in court -- this means that the previous decision is binding on the current FCC, and on the D.C. Circuit panel that hears the current challenge," John Bergmayer, senior counsel at Public Knowledge, said in a statement. "Much of the current FCC's argument depends on ignoring or contradicting the D.C. Circuit's earlier findings, but now that these are firmly established as binding law, the Pai FCC's case is on even weaker ground than before."
The Internet & Television Association, which represents major ISPs and was among the groups that challenged the 2016 ruling, said the Supreme Court's decision was "not surprising."
"Once the current FCC repealed the 2015 Order, almost all parties -- including NCTA -- agreed that the case was moot. Today's decision is not an indication of the Court's views on the merits but simply reflects the fact that there was nothing left for the Court to rule on," the organization said.
Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom, which also challenged the 2016 ruling, echoed those sentiments. The Trump FCC's reversal "remains the law of the land and is essential to an open internet that protects consumers and advances innovation. USTelecom will continue to support that order from challenges in Washington, D.C. and state capitals," he said.