Court: States Can Enforce Net Neutrality

John Lister's picture

Californian laws requiring "net neutrality" have been found lawful by an appeals court. As so often on the topic, the legal argument is as much about who has the power to make laws as it is the legal measures themselves.

While precise definitions vary between people with different viewpoints, the most common definition of net neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic (except that carrying illegal material) should be treated equally.

One of the key issues for that principle in practice is whether Internet carriers can give priority to connections to specific sites or intentionally slow down access to other sites. Real world cases of net neutrality disputes include mobile carriers who have data caps for subscribers but don't count downloads or streaming from specific sites, and broadband carriers who slow connections that use peer-to-peer file sharing, such as torrents.

Federal Vs State Battle

Net neutrality has long been a contentious issue on a federal level. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) used to have net neutrality rules but dropped them in 2017. The following year it said broadband should be treated as an "information service" rather than a "telecommunications service" which means it comes under lighter regulation. (Source:

While that means the federal position is that net neutrality should be dealt with by Congress passing laws rather than the FCC making rules, the debate has now switched to state versus federal powers.

In 2018, California passed a state law that replicated the measures in the FCC's former rules, applying them to broadband provision in the state.

Several communications companies challenged the law, arguing it was invalid as it would inappropriately override a federal position (namely that net neutrality rules meant inappropriately heavy regulation for broadband).

FCC Left Regulatory Vacuum

Both a district court and a federal appeals court have now rejected that challenge. The latest ruling noted that "only the invocation of federal regulatory authority can preempt state regulatory authority." (Source:

In both cases, the judges concluded that the FCC reclassification of broadband as an "information service" means it no longer has that regulatory authority in many areas, including whether or not to enforce net neutrality. That left it fair game for states to enforce locally.

As always with disputes about who has what legal authority, the case could wind up in the Supreme Court.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you broadly favor enforcing net neutrality? Should it be down to Congress, the FCC or states to decide? Is it practical to have different rules in different states?

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trbruce_9594's picture

Think it would be a disaster ( and a gong show ) if each state created their own rules.

Amazon13's picture

It would be much better if the laws were nationwide rather than Statewide! That is going to cause a big mess... We all know how diversified individuals are! Being it, that the huge range of Internet Services are, there must be a meeting of the minds as to what rules and regulations should be followed and what is and is not allowed! This will be contested for years to come in the courts! If only, some things in life were not so complicated!

beach.boui's picture

It will likely end up in the SCOTUS, which is heavily imbalanced in Republican favor. So, when the Republicans are finished, net neutrality will again be shoved in the closet. The people will feel the pain and pay the price while big corporate interests reap massive profits. Republicans get richer and the little people get smaller.

pctyson's picture

Beach boui
Just checked..The richest in America (Musk, Bezos, Gates, Ellison, and Zuckerberg, and Buffett who changed to Democrat) as an overwhelming whole contribute much more to Democratic candidates and than they do to Republicans. Four are solid Democrats.
Bezos calls himself neutral yet his donations do not prove his neutrality. Ellison"s donations and support leans to whoever can make him richer. So who is getting richer and under what party affiliation are the majority becoming richer?
Once again...a deceived liberal

russoule's picture

Does every discussion have to devolve to political preening and positioning?

The question is whether "net neutrality" should be or can be enforced by the individual states. the Constitution says that what is not specified as the federal area, within the Constitution itself, IS a state area for laws and statutes. Unless the Fcc or another alphabet department claims authority under the Commerce Clause, this too is a state authority. We may love it or hate it, but the Constitution says this is the way to go.

A secondary question about "net neutrality" is whether it promotes corporate income over user conveniance. There is no question that slowing the download or upload rate for a user is inconveniant, but lets face it, there are different speed limits for semi-trucks than for automobiles and there are different landing fees for private aircraft than for jumbo jets. "net neutrality" is a method of subverting the market place for information.

Personally, the only time I have a downl9oad problem is whe I am streaming an hour long video, so a difference between 60 minutes of stream-time and 66 minutes of stream-time is really not very much. I can't see where an individual would lose more than 10 or 15 minutes of time in an entire day as a result of infopackets getting a little extra preference in ISP capacity.