June 4, 2020 — Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., penned a letter to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, rebuking him for not counting HBO Max usage against users’ monthly data caps.
AT&T owns HBO, a relationship the senators claimed violates the company’s stated interest in a “free and open internet.” A report from the Verge found that although any company can be part of AT&T’s “sponsored data” system, where companies can pay to excuse users from overage charges, the only streaming services utilizing the system were owned by AT&T.
Obama-era net neutrality legislation made this behavior illegal, but in 2017 the Federal Communications Commission voted to strike down the regulations. Now, HBO Max can evade data caps by paying its parent company.
“The network is the plumbing, and the content is the water. And you’re seeing water and the plumbing kind of coming together,” said Tony Goncalves, an AT&T executive who oversees HBO Max.
Despite the FCC’s 2017 decision, a policy review just a year earlier stated that the agency was concerned about the presentation of “significant risks to consumers and competition in downstream industry sectors because of network operators’ potentially unreasonable discrimination in favor of their own affiliates.”
The letter expressed concern that AT&T’s behavior shows preferential treatment and discourages normal marketplace competitiveness.
“The Trump FCC may have gutted critical net neutrality protections, but AT&T nonetheless has a responsibility to avoid any policies or practices that harm consumers and stifle competition,” it read.
Practically speaking, the senators’ power is limited, but they requested a formal explanation from the company by June 25.
Given the explosive national response to the repeal of net neutrality, the senators may potentially be able to drum up public backlash sufficient to force the company to reconsider.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Denies Efforts to Eliminate California Net Neutrality Law
A coalition of telecommunication trade associations were unable to sway the court.
April 20, 2022 – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday denied the efforts of telecommunications trade groups to to rehear its prior decision upholding California’s 2018 net neutrality law.
In January, the court turned back industry trade groups, including US Telecom, the cable industry groups NCTA and ACA Connects, and the wireless association CTIA, who had sought to overturn California’s SB 822 on the grounds that the Federal Communications Commission federal rules on net neutrality conflict with California’s state level rules.
Then, the appeals court found that because the FCC determined – in a prior ruling during the Trump administration – that it no longer had authority over broadband consumer protection, California’s broadband consumer protection law could go into effect.
On Wednesday, the appeals court refused to reconsider whether the California law had been preempted by the FCC’s decision.
In January 2018, the FCC – administered by then-Commissioner Ajit Pai – rescinded rules put in place in 2015 by the Obama administration that had reclassified broadband services from “information services” to “telecommunication services.” The latter category is subject to far more regulations.
Later that year, California passed SB 822, putting net neutrality requirements in place for California consumers, even after the rules had been gutted at the federal level by the FCC.
On the federal level, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Trump administration’s removal of net neutrality requirements in October 2019. Although the Pai FCC’s reclassification was largely upheld by the D.C. circuit court, the victory was tempered by the court’s decision, by a two-to-one margin, to vacate the FCC’s having purported to preempt “any state or local requirements that are inconsistent with [the FCC’s] de-regulatory approach.”
In a tweet about Wednesday’s ruling, FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel said:
- The 9th Circuit just denied the effort to rehear its decision upholding California’s #netneutrality law. 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.
“As expected, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected yet another attempt by internet service providers to overturn California’s strong net neutrality law,” said John Bergmayer, Legal Director at Public Knowledge.
“The California net neutrality law is now undefeated in court after four attempts to eliminate it,” he said. Net neutrality protections nationally continue to be common sense and popular with the public among all ideologies. It’s good news that Californians will continue to enjoy this important consumer protection, and we look forward to a full Federal Communications Commission restoring net neutrality nationwide.”
Federal Appeals Court Upholds California’s Net Neutrality Rules
The ruling prevents internet providers in the state from abandoning net neutrality for broadband customers.
January 28, 2022 – The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ruled against broadband companies seeking to block a state net neutrality law, and internet policy advocates are calling it a win for consumers in California.
The ruling comes after industry trade groups, including US Telecom, the cable industry groups NCTA and ACA Connects, and the wireless association CTIA, sought to overturn California’s law on the grounds that the Federal Communications Commission’s now-abandoned federal rules on net neutrality conflict with California’s state level rules.
The court found that because the FCC determined – in a prior ruling during the Trump administration – that it no longer had authority over broadband consumer protection, California’s broadband consumer protection law could go into effect.
SB 822, or the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018, restricts internet service providers from some activities. For example, the state law prevents paid prioritization, or agreements that would optimize data transfer rates large companies including Facebook, Google and Netflix.
The law also prohibits so-called “zero-rating” practices that some believe exploit consumers by allowing free access to some services but not others.
John Bergmayer, legal director at Public Knowledge, called the ruling a “great decision and a major victory for internet users in California and nationwide.”
“When the FCC has its full complement of commissioners, it should put into place rules at least as strong as California’s nationwide, making some state measures unnecessary. But even after that happens, this decision clarifies that states have room to enact broadband consumer protection laws that go beyond the federal baseline.”
But Randy May, president of the Free State Foundation, said “like a lot of Ninth Circuit decisions, it is arguable that the court got the law wrong regarding whether California’s net neutrality law is preempted. Given the inherently interstate nature of today’s tightly integrated broadband internet networks, there’s a good chance that other circuits might reach a different conclusion regarding preemption.
May said that the risks of a patchwork of state regulations “should prompt Congress to resolve the decades-old net neutrality controversy by adopting a new law that prevents consumer harm while recognizing the technologically dynamic nature of today’s Internet ecosystem.”
The opinion was authored by Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary Schroeder and joined by Judge Danielle Forrest with a concurrence by Judge J. Clifford Wallace.
Rosenworcel Stands Firm on Net Neutrality in Face of Lawmakers Urging Status Quo
The FCC chairwoman responded to a letter by members of Congress resisting calls to back down on net neutrality.
WASHINGTON, January 4, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a letter to lawmakers last week that she continues to stand by her view that the restoration of net neutrality principles would be the best move for the internet economy.
Rosenworcel was responding to an April letter by over two dozen members of Congress, who urged the chairwoman to maintain the current “light touch” regulations imposed by the 2017 commission, led by chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by then-President Donald Trump. That change rolled back net neutrality rules imposed by the 2015 Obama-era commission, which prevented internet service providers from influencing the content on their networks, including barring carriers from providing certain services for free over their networks – also known as “zero rating.”
In her letter on December 28, Rosenworcel, who was confirmed as commissioner of the agency by the Senate earlier that month, said the net neutrality principles of 2015 were the “strongest foundation” for the internet economy as a whole and is “fundamental” to the “foundation of openness.”
“Those principles drove investment on the edges of the network, which network operators responded to by investing in infrastructure that allows consumers to access the services of their choosing,” Rosenworcel said in the letter.
“I stand ready to work with Congress on this topic, as necessary,” she added. “However, I continue to support net neutrality and believe that the Commission has the authority to adopt net neutrality rules.”
The lawmakers – which include Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, and Bob Latta, R-Ohio – used as support the efforts of service providers to maintain a robust network during the pandemic, as well as their willingness to waive late fees and open Wi-Fi hotspots as additional reasons for the commission not to impose further regulations on business. The letter also noted that the Department of Justice’s withdrawal of a lawsuit against a net neutrality law in California led to two providers axing services that relied on zero rating protections.
The lawmakers challenged previous comments made by Rosenworcel, who said that it was unfortunate that California had to fill a void left by the net neutrality rollbacks. But Rosenworcel reiterated those comments. “It is unfortunate that individual states have had to fill the void left behind after the misguided roll back of the Commission’s net neutrality policies,” she said in her letter.
And while the lawmakers said they “agree that harmful practices such as blocking, throttling, and anticompetitive behavior should not be permitted…we can achieve this without heavy-handed overregulation.”
The current make-up of the FCC includes two Democrats and two Republicans. President Joe Biden’s pick for a fifth Democratic commissioner to break the party deadlock, net neutrality advocate Gigi Sohn, is still awaiting a confirmation vote by the Senate.
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