Court ruling may limit state efforts to reimpose net neutrality

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States can't regulate 'information services,' the FCC argues

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai is pointing to a federal appeals court ruling as evidence states lack the authority to reimpose net neutrality.

The ruling Friday found that the state of Minnesota cannot regulate VoIP phone services because it is internet-based and the internet is an "information service." Pai says that means states like California, that are imposing their own rules concerning the internet, don't have the legal authority to do so.

“A patchwork quilt of 50 state laws harms investment and innovation in advanced communications services," Pai said in a statement. "That’s why federal law for decades has recognized that states may not regulate information services."

Last December, the FCC voted along party lines to roll back its own net neutrality rules put in place during the Obama administration. Those rules classified the internet as a common carrier, requiring providers to treat all internet traffic the same.

The debate

Net neutrality supporters have argued that the principal protects smaller players and prevents large providers, such as Verizon and AT&T, from favoring their own content over that of their competitors.

Pai maintains that the companies that build the networks should be allowed to make distinctions between clients that use a lot of bandwidth and those that use very little. The FCC chairman said the appeals court ruling means states like California can't undo the FCC's action.

"The Eighth Circuit’s decision is important for reaffirming that well-established principle: ‘State regulation of an information service conflicts with the federal policy of nonregulation’ and is therefore preempted," Pai said. "That is wholly consistent with the approach the FCC has taken under Democratic and Republican Administrations over the last two decades, including in last year’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order.”

The FCC was a party to the court case, filing a brief in support of Charter Communications' suit against the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Whether the decision ends up derailing state efforts to reimpose net neutrality will most likely determined in court.

Earlier this month, California approved a measure that would prevent internet service providers (ISP) from blocking or slowing legal content and giving some websites priority over others. State Senator Scott Wiener, author of the legislation, said the law is the toughest set of internet protections in the nation.

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