Court Hands FCC Win on Net Neutrality

WASHINGTON—The FCC today won a court ruling that upholds its 2018 order nullifying net neutrality rules, unanimously agreeing with the commission’s classification of broadband internet access as a Title I “information service,” as part of its justification for dropping the rules.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. did make two exceptions in its decision, however. It said the commission did not prove that it had the legal authority to prevent states from imposing any rules more stringent than the FCC’s 2018 order. It also remanded the decision back to the commission, noting that the FCC failed to examine the implications of its order for public safety as well as what reclassification would mean for regulation of pole attachments or how it would affect the commission’s “Lifeline Program,” which provides communications discounts to low income consumers.

The court used the “Chevron principle” in agreeing with the commission’s classification of broadband as an “information service.” The Chevron principle allows federal agencies to clarify a Congressional statute if it is considered ”reasonable.”

“Applying these principles here, we hold that classifying broadband internet access as an ‘information service’ based on the functionalities of DNS and caching is ‘a reasonable policy choice for the [Commission] to make,’” the court said.

The court also disagreed with opponents of the commission’s decision, who said the FCC’s use of the term “public switched network” must be understood as if Congress had used the phrase ‘public switched telephone network.’” The court said that the term “public switched network” can be used to describe a telecommunications system that uses both telephone numbers and IP addresses.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai hailed the decision.

“Today’s decision is a victory for consumers, broadband deployment and the free and open internet. The court affirmed the FCC’s decision to repeal 1930s utility-style regulation of the internet imposed by the prior Administration,” he said in a statement. “The court also upheld our robust transparency rule so that consumers can be fully informed about their online options. Since we adopted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, consumers have seen 40% faster speeds and millions more Americans have gained access to the internet. A free and open internet is what we have today and what we’ll continue to have moving forward. We look forward to addressing on remand the narrow issues that the court identified.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who opposed the FCC’s original order, said in a tweet that the fight for net neutrality is “not over.”

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (, the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.