Supreme court won’t review old net neutrality rules, but doesn’t kill them off either

5 November 2018 by Steve Blum
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The federal supreme court will let network neutrality rules stand. Sorta. In a ruling made on Friday and released this morning, the supreme court said it wouldn’t review the 2015 decision by the then-democratic majority on the Federal Communications Commission to impose net neutrality rules.

The court’s ruling has no practical effect at the moment. Those rules were repealed by the new republican-majority FCC last year. But a federal appeals court did hear the challenge launched by telecommunications companies and said the FCC acted within its authority in 2015. That could have implications for a couple of other big net neutrality cases.

Telecom industry lobbying fronts and the current FCC asked the supreme court to summarily overturn the appeals court’s action. If the 2017 net neutrality repeal is thrown out by the District of Columbia circuit – the appeals court handling both cases – then the 2015 decision goes back into force, which would be inconvenient for them. In arguments submitted last month, the cable and telco lobbyists claimed that allowing the 2015 rules to lie dormant would make it harder for them to defend the gift they got from the FCC in 2018

Because various parties challenging the 2017 Order…are currently attempting to use the D.C. Circuit’s decision upholding the 2015 Order to support their challenges to the 2018 Order. As that fact demonstrates, absent action by this Court, the D.C. Circuit’s unreviewed and now unreviewable decision upholding the 2015 Order threatens to have ongoing consequences in the litigation of highly significant legal and policy issues.

They’ll have to live with those fears.

The supreme court’s ruling also tells us something about California’s net neutrality law, which is on hold after the same cast of characters – Trump administration lawyers, the FCC and telecoms lobbyists – challenged it in a Sacramento-based federal court. California attorney general Xavier Becerra backed down and iced the law until the 2017 FCC decision is fully litigated. This latest supreme court ruling comes three and a half years after the 2015 FCC decision, and if it had chosen to hear the case, it would have dragged on well into next year.

In other words, it’s going to be a long time before any net neutrality rules – Californian or federal – take effect, if they ever do.