Even after the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission put an end to rules guaranteeing net neutrality that were put into effect under President Barack Obama in 2015, repealing the open internet regulations once and for all on June 6, the Trump administration is going back to court to make sure that net neutrality stays dead.
Last Friday, according to a report by the tech news site CNet, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief with the Supreme Court, asking the court to toss out 2016 rulings by two lower federal courts that upheld net neutrality rules.
The FCC joined the DOJ in filing the brief, which acknowledges that the issue is “moot,” because the net neutrality rules no longer exist.
But according to CNet, net neutrality advocates see the move by the two Trump administration agencies differently. Rather than a simple case of legal “housecleaning,” the administration, they say, wants the court to create a precedent that can be used against an ongoing lawsuit by 23 states—a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the FCC’s repeal of the open internet rules.
“What's at stake in this fight over the 2015 net neutrality regulations isn't only the basic rules of the road for how service providers can treat internet traffic, but also whether the FCC has the authority to regulate broadband networks like a public utility,” CNet wrote, explaining that the Obama-era regulations did more than prevent internet service providers from blocking or slowing traffic from certain sites while favoring others—the 2015 rules reclassified the internet itself as a “Title II” entity.
That means, under the 84-year-old Communications Act the government would have broad authority to regulate the internet, even setting prices for use and access—similar to the regulations once imposed on the telephone industry.
In 2016, both the Washington D.C. Circuit Court and, soon afterward, the appellate court in that district ruled in favor of the 2015 regulations, in a lawsuit brought by AT&T and other large telecom companies. But before the corporations’ appeal could go before the Supreme Court, the FCC voted to kill the net neutrality rules.
The Trump administration contends that the lower courts upheld net neutrality rules only because they believed that courts were required to defer to the FCC’s “legal and factual judgements.” But now that the FCC has “repudiated” its earlier judgments, the lower court decisions should be invalidated, the administration’s brief says.
Photo by Free Press Action Fund / Flickr Creative Commons