Net Neutrality

Federal Court Upholds FCC Decision to Roll Back Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules

Deregulation didn't end the internet as we know it.


Four years ago, in the waning days of the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission finally achieved one the president's long-held political goals: a formal reclassification of the internet's regulatory status, from a lightly regulated Title I "information service" to a more heavily regulated Title "telecommunications service"—essentially, a public utility.

It was a profound shift in internet regulation, which from the beginning had survived, and arguably thrived, under a regulatory approach that was largely hands-off. Now the federal government would effectively be the arbiter of which network practices would be acceptable and which would be forbidden. 

The move came as a result of the Obama administration's push for "net neutrality" rules that would have governed how internet service providers managed their networks. Net neutrality rules had been repeatedly struck down in the courts, which said the agency lacked statutory authority to make the change. Forcing the internet into a public utility model would give net neutrality rules a stronger legal foundation. 

It would also place a substantial burden on internet service providers (ISPs), which warned of decreased investment under the new regulatory scheme, and for little obvious consumer benefit. Although net neutrality supporters frequently invoked dire hypotheticals about the end of a free and open internet, they produced few significant examples of net neutrality violations in the real world. Net neutrality was a prophylactic, not a solution to an existing problem. 

Two years later, after President Donald Trump's election, newly installed FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai began a process that led to the rollback of the Obama administration's regulatory overhaul. Critics issued increasingly apocalyptic warnings about ISPs charging more for certain services and blocking websites for expressing certain political opinions—conjuring up a "dystopian" future internet in which "the basics are barely tolerable, and everything else costs extra." The Trump FCC's move was a "threat to free speech." 

"As a result of today's misguided action, our broadband providers will get extraordinary new powers. They will have the power to block websites, the power to throttle services, and the power to censor online content," Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel warned at the time. 

But the main result of Pai's move was to take the internet back to a regulatory model similar to the one it had operated under from its inception through 2014. Internet service would be lightly regulated, as it had been since the 1990s. ISPs would be required to be transparent about network management processes, and the Federal Trade Commission would enforce violations. 

More than 20 state attorneys general, along with several internet companies that favored net neutrality, took the FCC to court, arguing that the agency had acted in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner that would allow ISPs to "abuse their gatekeeper roles in ways that harm consumers and threaten public safety." 

Today, by a 2-1 vote, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided largely with the FCC, upholding the primary regulatory rollback as a valid exercise of its authority. In the nearly 200 page opinion, which is heavy on technical detail, the court wrote that while the challengers raised "numerous objections" aiming to show that the FCC's reclassification is "unreasonable," the judges found them "unconvincing."

The court raised several smaller issues related to public safety and "the regulation of pole attachments," and allowed for the possibility that states might implement their own net neutrality regulations. California has already enacted such a law, but had suspended enforcement pending the outcome of this case. And the court cautioned that its judgment was not an endorsement of the policy decision on the merits, but a judgment about its legality. 

The evidence for the Trump FCC's decision to roll back the Obama administration's regulatory expansion, however, is in the state of the internet itself: Broadband speeds are up, and the United States leads the world in overall data traffic. The internet, while imperfect, has not become the sluggish, apocalyptic, dysfunctional mess that net neutrality backers warned. 

And while it is true that large tech companies have, in some cases, suppressed the expression of certain political ideas on their online platforms, that suppression—which is not, strictly speaking, censorship in the First Amendment sense, and is legal—has tended to come from social media companies who supported some form of net neutrality.

Even in the absence of net neutrality rules, the internet, in other words, remains as it has always been: fascinating, frustrating, infuriating, invigorating—or, at the very least, just fine. 

NEXT: Ex-Cop, Who Killed Her Neighbor After Accidentally Entering His Apartment, Convicted of Murder

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  1. Internet NOT imploding?

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    2. Maybe we are already dead???

  2. Weren't millions of people supposed to die if they rolled back net neutrality? What happened to them?

    1. They did die. That's why you can't hear and see them.

    2. The people and tech companies that supported net neutrality have gone on a full court press to put their thumbs on their own content and creators that make up their platforms.

      Everyone was worried that the person who owned the last mile of copper would put their thumb on the scale, who knew the people screaming the loudest about the need for Net Neutrality were hanging onto one end of the scale like Shawn Kemp after a two-fisted jam.

      1. This. Although, the content controllers always meant to do just that, they just didn't want to have to deal with getting squeezed by the last milers.

        Let me just add, this

        is not about Facebook caving to free speech protests.

        That is a warning shot to the Democrats who, heretofore Facebook has been very good to, need to remember their end of that bargain.

    3. Thrown in the gator/snake moat at the boarder ...

  3. Don't let that give you any pause the next time you shill for a regulation written in its entirety by Google's lawyers though you Kochsucking pieces of shit.

    1. "Don’t let that give you any pause the next time you shill for a regulation written in its entirety by Google’s lawyers though you Kochsucking pieces of shit."

      There's a term for people like you....
      Oh, yeah: Fucking lefty ignoramus
      Fuck off and die where you won't stink up the place.

      1. 'Fuck off and die where you won’t stink up the place."

        Adam Schiff's office?

  4. Please make note that the investigation didn't center on implementing regulations, it centered on the attempt to roll them back.

    You see, an agency that can craft regulations out of whole cloth is not also empowered to roll them back.

    Seems entirely reasonable...

    1. Sort of like how a President can't issue an executive order to end one crafted by his predecessor.

      1. Its almost as if the ends justify the means!

    2. The legal theory the plaintiffs were advancing was that creating the regulations and then immediately rolling them back was "arbitrary and capricious" use of the FCC's regulatory power (said legal term describes prohibited conduct).

  5. It's nucking futs that the Democrats are scared shitless over the tiny mom-and-pop ISPs, while ignoring the massive Google/Netflix elephant in their pocket.

    Revealed preferences. They don't care about "neutrality" or access or anything like that. They are just against those companies that don't heavily contribute to Democrat campaigns.

    1. No, it's perfectly rational in a world where government regulation and control is the goal.

    2. The issue is that websites, even Google, don't have a monopoly. I can use other search engines.
      That last mile of copper, not everyone has choices (well with 5G wireless, maybe they will?). I fortunately have two ISPs I can play off each other.

      I wonder if Microsoft will strike a deal with a big ISP to force/prefer 'Bing'. Why not, nothing else would get anyone to use it.

      1. "That last mile of copper, not everyone has choices (well with 5G wireless, maybe they will?). I fortunately have two ISPs I can play off each other."

        No one guarantees a hospital if you live in the boonies, either. If it's important to you, live in a place where you do have choices.

        1. Yeah, make good choices like not getting cancer and such!

          1. I can see why you would be confused by all this.

          2. "joeyb
            October.2.2019 at 2:29 am
            "Yeah, make good choices like not getting cancer and such!"

            Is the world unfair to you joey? Do you always make stupid decisions and then have to live with the results?
            Well, get used to it. You're a fucking lefty ignoramus, and the rest of your life it gonna be like that.
            And I'm laughing, you pile of shit.

    3. That and they WANT full regulation of the internet, so they can deplatform conservatives and libertarians.

      Luckily for now that can't happen. This is a win for the free and open internet.

  6. "But Your Honors, the ratchet is only supposed to turn one way!!!"

    1. Yeah man well put!!! Any day that Government Almighty gets smaller, is a GOOD day!

  7. Net neutrality is an artifact of the days that Big Tech and the Democrats were friends. Now that seemingly every Dem presidential candidate wants to join the Republicans in beating Big Tech to death, things may be quite different.

    1. It actually predates that. It used to be about "equality" of packets. Packets could not be charged a surcharge, or slowed down, based on their origin or content. Basically, backbone routers don't get to classify packets, they have to charge the same for all of them (except for certain special QoS packets). Still a bad idea, but different than the Internet Socialism that the Democrats turned the idea into. Now it's just the same old "free college and last mile internet for everyone".

      1. And like the fight over Internet Explorer 4 in the 90s. But with NN, people quickly realized that slowing down or favoring this packet over that one just peanuts compared to when you can just deperson the group producing the content.

  8. And while it is true that large tech companies have, in some cases, suppressed the expression of certain political ideas on their online platforms, that suppression had entirely nothing to do with Net Neutrality regulation, and in fact, those large companies currently suppressing speech on their platforms fully support Net Neutrality.

  9. We must have a heavily regulated internet if we are to continue to enjoy the benefits and wonders of a socialist slave state. Free speech only confuses the masses and makes for chaos and discord for our beloved ruling elites.
    Censorship of all information sources is a necessity if we are to have a calm, collected and unified country of slaves. We all remember the evils freedom brings and must avoid them at all costs.

    1. Isn't this about ISP's though. What are ISP's blocking or shown that they want to block? Maybe charge Netflix more.
      I don't think NN has anything to do with censorship. Maybe asking youtube to pay for fast service to consumers due to the bandwidth that they use, but that's not censorship seeing as all of the points being made in such a video could easily be provided via text website. Or, the user can buy their own site and have such a video available to users.

      1. The entire argument behind NN was centered around censorship-- or the potential thereof. If an ISP could favor one service or another, that would lead to a potentially unequal internet where some voices would be drowned out, or throttled in favor of others who either had the means or the connections to get the most favorable terms of traffic handling.

    2. It depends on who you trust to make the rules, Verizon or the government?
      For some reason, Europe pays a lot less for bandwidth than USA does. I guess the strong unions, shorter work weeks makes for cheaper infrastructure?
      $20-50 in most of Europe, $50-100 in USA.
      Don't worry, Verizon's got your back.

      1. "It depends on who you trust to make the rules, Verizon or the government?"

        You mean the government handing out favors for 'ccontirbutions? Verizon can't do that without the government, and lefty twits swear the solution is, well, MORE GOVERNMENT! Lefty twits aren't real bright.
        In the US, most locales with a decent market have the local government collecting its tithe by 'allowing' few providers.
        In Britain, at least, the government yanked BT's monopoly, allowing competition. And they got it, forcing down the costs.

          1. The lowered costs were because of Government regulation forcing BT to share their network infrastructure though.

            1. Pretty sure BT has the only land lines because the government granted a monopoly.
              I can't find any other Brit land-line telcos.

        1. This. When a private business in an unrestricted market tries to shake down customers that is a market signal for competition.

          It is only when the market is artificially (ie. laws/regulations) restricted that such shakedowns can succeed.

          Of course, the most successful shakedowns occur when the government is the provider.

  10. Does this mean I can finally create my satellite internet governed by space law and allow people to subscribe using just a screen name and a prepaid Visa? I think getting it up there is going to be the tough part, but I built a ham radio and model rockets before. I know throwing things into orbit can be dangerous for space travel, but I'm not aware of any laws preventing this.

  11. Government secret police bad.
    Corporate secret police good.

    1. Government secret police have a long widespread history of killing, maiming, and jailing.

      What have the corporate secret police done to you, besides trying to get you to buy their shit? And losing track of who has your data? If they lose track of your data, and someone uses your data to rip you off... And you can PROVE it... You can sue, you know. Now try and sue the FBI, DEA, CIA, NSA, KGB, alphabet-soup etc. And tell me WHERE are you going to get better luck, out of the courts?

      I think the FAR bigger boogeyman is Government Almighty! Hands down!

      1. Give the blue-hair brigade at Google time.

      2. Well, for starters, Bill Gate's billion$.
        And what did we get for it? An OS that essentially you don't own (there's even a backdoor user account so Microsoft can install stuff when they deem it necessary).
        Not to worry, I'm sure the ISP industry is full of frugal owners that are only looking out for me.
        At least with the government I can petition them or vote 'em out of office.

        1. Here was the question:
          "What have the corporate secret police done to you, besides trying to get you to buy their shit?"

          Here was your non-answer:
          "Well, for starters, Bill Gate’s billion$."

          Green looks good on lefty twits.

      3. Government secret police cop suckers bad.
        Corporate secret police cop suckers good.

    2. Fats of Fury
      October.1.2019 at 5:39 pm
      "Government secret police bad.
      Corporate secret police good."

      Idiots who somehow can't tell the difference are amazingly stoooooooopid.

  12. "Critics issued increasingly apocalyptic warnings about ISPs charging more for certain services and blocking websites for expressing certain political opinions"

    It's funny how those same critics are the only organizations actually engaging in and advocating for such practices themselves. Let's ban the President from Twitter but if you don't pass net neutrality Comcast will literally rape you for not liking their customer service!

    1. That's not net neutrality. That's a non-ISP private company not wanting information on their platform. Getting banned from twitter is like a coffee house saying you can't read your poetry anymore because they didn't like it. You can still buy coffee there. It's not even banning you from twitter. You can still view all public stuff.
      Social media is not needed for you to have a voice. If you tweet only those on twitter can read it. If you stand on a soap box on a sidewalk only those around can hear it. You have a right to the sidewalk more than you have a right to another private company's service.

      1. You just won the 100 yard dash to miss the point.

        1. I guess I did too. What was it?

          1. I guess there wasn't one.

  13. Given today's opinion, why does reason link — on the front page — to Britschgi's stale, two-year-old, piece about the legality of state regulation? Have Britschgi gin up something current, in light of today's opinion.

    And have her include something about the dissent. Senior Circuit Judge, Stephen F. Williams, would have barred states from imposing their own net neutrality style regulations. In his geezerly dissent, he first gases on with some quotes from Macbeth. When he (finally) turns to something of substance — it is Chevron Deference. Something that libertarians hate, and have already declared basically dead. But he sure didn't use anything that Britschgi's two-year-old piece suggested would preempt state regulation.

  14. Oh, come on. This is an Obama-era rule, so it must be all right, and the D.C. Circuit must be all Trump appointees if they overturned it.

  15. See, all you Trumptards? Now don't you miss the Obama years, don't you wish you had voted for Herself instead of Orange Man Bad?
    (That's sarcasm, btw, for you people with broken sarcasm-o-meters.

    1. Those were not the only choices.

  16. Point of information. Technically, the FCC is an independent agency, not part of the administration of either Obama or Trump.

  17. Another article written by folks who never have to pay for shit.

    1. TonyT
      October.2.2019 at 11:34 am
      "Another article written by folks who never have to pay for shit."

      Is the world unfair to you Tony? Do you always make stupid decisions and then have to live with the results?
      Well, get used to it. You’re a fucking lefty ignoramus, and the rest of your life is gonna be like that.
      And I’m laughing, you pile of shit.

  18. The Internet doesn't need saving? Deregulation won't end the Internet as we know it?

    So . . . Section 230, then?

    Is this crap magazine funded by tech companies or something?

    1. M L
      October.2.2019 at 1:04 pm
      "The Internet doesn’t need saving? Deregulation won’t end the Internet as we know it?
      So . . . Section 230, then?"

      Confused, are you?

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