State Utility Commissions Looking to Defend Net Neutrality Rules

The rules take a narrow approach to preempting state laws.

State Utility Commissions Looking to Defend Net Neutrality Rules
Photo from the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2024 – A group of state utility regulators wants to intervene on the Federal Communications Commission’s behalf in the industry challenge to the agency's net neutrality rules.

The case is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati. Broadband trade groups sued to have the rules thrown out and have asked judges to issue a judicial stay by July 15.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, or NARUC, has an interest in the case, the group wrote, because the FCC’s rules reaffirmed state and local authority over broadband in some key respects.

The rules reclassified broadband as a Title II service under the Communications Act, which gave the FCC the ability to override existing state laws on the industry. But the order left intact many state rules that paralleled or potentially went further than the commission’s. 

“The Order’s return to the classification of [broadband] as a ‘telecommunications service’ reanimates reservations of NARUC member commissions’ authority specified in [the Communications Act],” said NARUC General Counsel James Bradford Ramsay in a motion to intervene in the case. “The outcome of this appeal will directly impact NARUC’s state commission members’ operations going forward.” 

State agencies were left mostly free under the FCC rules to enforce their own policies, even ones that mirrored FCC rules, so long as they did not interfere with the agency’s intended regulatory scheme for broadband.

“On the contrary, we think state enforcement generally supports our regulatory efforts by dedicating additional resources to monitoring and enforcement, especially at the local level, and thereby ensuring greater compliance with our requirements,” the order read.

However, the FCC did decide to block states from requiring broadband Internet Service Providers to contribute to state universal service funds.

The FCC opted for a case-by-case system for determining whether to preempt other kinds of state laws and regulations, denying requests from commenters to categorically throw out all state and local broadband rules.

The Net Neutrality rules go into effect July 22 absent a judicial stay requested by trade association for national and regional ISPs.

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