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Net Neutrality

Federal Appeals Court Upholds California’s Net Neutrality Rules

The ruling prevents internet providers in the state from abandoning net neutrality for broadband customers.

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Photo of Mary Schroeder, Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit Court, from the May 2006 Swarthmore commencement address

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.

Net Neutrality

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.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

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.”

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Net Neutrality

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.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and former Chairman Ajit Pai

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.

This week, Sohn received endorsements from former FCC officials, but has received some apprehension from some lawmakers and a police association over her stance on end-to-end encryption.

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Senate Committee OK’s Rosenworcel, Questions Sohn on Mapping, Net Neutrality, Broadband Standards

Gigi Sohn explained her positions on issues facing the FCC.

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Gigi Sohn at Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee meeting

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2021 – As the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmed Jessica Rosenworcel as commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, it also questioned Wednesday agency nominee Gigi Sohn on issues including net neutrality, broadband mapping, and speeds.

Rosenworcel is already chairwoman of the FCC by virtue of being named to the position by President Joe Biden. The president picks the chair of the agency from among the commissioners. However, Rosenworcel’s term as commissioner is to expire unless the Senate confirms her appointment to another term.

The committee on Wednesday also approved Alvaro Bedoya, a staunch privacy advocate, as commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission and had rounds at questioning Alan Davidson, who was nominated as head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which will oversee $42.5 billion in broadband funds from the recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

On mapping, Sohn called for a “crowdsourcing” effort amongst states to improve the quality of broadband mapping, as the agency has started to do. “A lot of states have maps already and they are quite accurate,” she said. Though she could not commit to a timeline, Sohn said that there could be no “good policy without good maps” and that if she were confirmed, she would dedicate herself to improve the FCC’s broadband maps.

Sohn also voiced her support for municipal broadband. “I have supported municipal broadband for a very long time,” she said, adding she supports open access models that allow service providers to share the same network. Sohn pointed to Utah as an example, where the model has been implemented successfully. She stated that the model has led to “enormous competition” for service providers.

When pressed as to whether the FCC should be able to preempt states and dictate how they implement their broadband policy, Sohn said she would like the FCC to have a better relationship with states. “If I am confirmed, one of the things I would ask the chairwoman [to use me as] a liaison to the states, because I’ve really formed very good relationships with them,” she said. “In the past, we have not [reached out] to the states and made them partners. We have been more adversarial.”

Net neutrality, broadband standards and Big Tech

Sohn also came out in support of net neutrality. “What I am concerned about now, with the repeal in 2017 of the net neutrality rules and the reclassification of broadband, is that we have no touch,” she said. “[Net neutrality] is really much broader than [preventing] blocking and throttling. It is about whether or not bandwidth – which we all agree is an essential service – should have government oversight, and right now, it does not.”

Legislators also questioned Sohn on her perspectives regarding broadband standards. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asked Sohn what standard – whether it was 100 Mbps download with 20 Mbps upload, or 100 Mbps symmetrical service – would bridge the digital divide. Sohn stated that it would take more than just the deployment of infrastructure to bridge the digital divide.

“I have urged that Congress adopt a permanent broadband subsidy like the Affordable Connectivity Program – which is more money but is not permanent,” Sohn said. “You still always have the adoption problem as well, where people do not have the digital literacy, sometimes not even [actual] literacy, to be able to use the internet.”

Insofar that capacity and internet speeds are concerned, Sohn emphasized that the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act “does prefer scalable networks to meet the needs of tomorrow.”

“What we do not want, I would think – or I would not want – is to come back in five or ten years and say, ‘Oh, my goodness! We spent all this money, and we still have slow networks, and we still have areas that are not served,” she said. “The ability to have technologies that can grow over time.” Sohn stopped short of explicitly listing specific scalable technologies.

On Big Tech, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, described “a confluence of liberals advocating for censoring anyone with whom they disagree,” and a situation where “big tech [is] eagerly taking up the mantle to censor those with whom they disagree.” Cruz asked Sohn how she could guarantee she would not “use the power of government to silence.”

Sohn said that she would “make that commitment” to not act in such a way and added that she would “take any allegations of bias extremely seriously.” She said that she will continue to work with the Office of Government Ethics to dissuade any concerns people may have about her biases.

A date for a vote on Sohn and Davidson’s nominations has not yet been scheduled.

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