DC Circuit upholds Pai FCC’s net neutrality repeal, allows states to pass their own net neutrality laws

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals largely upheld the Pai FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules.  At the same time, the court ruled that states can pass their own net neutrality laws and sent portions of the repeal -- concerning public safety, service providers’ use of public rights-of-way, and the federal Lifeline program -- back to the FCC for reconsideration.

The court’s ruling follows years of activity to protect an open Internet. In 2015 the Wheeler FCC adopted strong net neutrality rules. Those rules reclassified broadband as a telecom service and prohibited blocking, slowing, and any favorable treatment of websites. In 2016, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Wheeler rules over a challenge by the broadband industry. Then, in 2017, the Republican FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai rescinded the 2015 rules, eliminating virtually all open Internet protections. That brings us to this latest ruling. 

Before this decision, a number of states -- most notably California -- passed net neutrality legislation. The Justice Department (DOJ) promptly filed suit challenging California’s net neutrality law. But in October 2018, California and the Justice Department reached a temporary agreement in which California agreed to halt enforcement of the law and the DOJ agreed to drop its legal challenge, pending the DC Circuit Court’s decision on Pai’s repeal.

“As we argued, once the Commission decided not to regulate broadband, it lost the ability to preempt states from doing so,” said John Bergmayer, Legal Director at Public Knowledge. “The Commission’s choice to give up oversight of broadband means that states now have the clear authority to step in to protect consumers and promote competition where the FCC is unwilling to do so.”

The Communications Workers of America supports three bright-line, common sense rules to protect a free and open Internet – no blocking, no throttling, and no favorable treatment of some websites and applications over others.


Court Defers to FCC on Dismantling Net Neutrality for Now but Opens Door for States, Higher Courts and Congress to Act (Free Press, Oct. 1, 2019)

Public Knowledge Applauds D.C. Circuit Court Ruling Preventing FCC from Blocking State Net Neutrality Laws (Public Knowledge, Oct. 1, 2019)

Supreme Court rejects challenge to 2015 net neutrality rules (Speed Matters, Nov. 9, 2018)

The Supreme Court won’t take up net neutrality (Washington Post, Nov. 5, 2018)

California agrees not to enforce its net neutrality law as Justice Dept. puts lawsuit on hold (Washington Post, Oct. 26, 2018)

Net neutrality goes away on June 11 (Speed Matters, May. 14, 2018)

CWA: FCC vote will damage free and open Internet (Speed Matters, Dec. 14, 2017)