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Oregon’s Net Neutrality Law Upheld by Federal Ruling

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the FCC could not pre-emptively stop states from creating their own stricter rules governing Internet providers, which the FCC opposed in the court case.

by Adam Duvernay, The Register-Guard / October 8, 2019

(TNS) — A federal court has upheld the right of states like Oregon to make their own laws keeping Internet providers from slowing down selected parts of their service, but private citizens in Oregon are not currently guaranteed net neutrality by law.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday said the long-argued deregulation of how Internet providers are allowed to offer services by the Federal Communications Commission was legal. But the court also said the FCC could not preemptively stop states from creating their own stricter rules governing Internet providers, which the FCC opposed in the court case.

Net neutrality is the idea that Internet service providers should give equal access to all online content without being able to slow down, block or monetize specific pieces of the web. Some providers — such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast — argue net neutrality laws disincentivize them from making investments in their network, among other arguments that federal net neutrality rules are burdensome.

Proponents of net neutrality argue deregulating net neutrality put their online activities at the mercy of providers, in what Internet users can access and how much they'll be forced to pay to do so. People in favor of net neutrality want all online activity treated equally.

"It's not something that our clients want. It's not something that the community wants," said Stephen Parac, chief operations officer of local Internet service provider XS Media. "We take a very consumer-focused approach to our service. We've always been that way."

Tuesday's ruling was the climax of public and commercial battling over the 2017 repeal of Obama-era net neutrality protections by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. A key provision of the roll-back disallowed states from making their own net neutrality protections.

Oregon was the second state in the nation, behind Washington, to defy the FCC by passing a law in 2018 that required state agencies contract only with net neutral broadband companies, making some exceptions for when Internet access is necessary for public safety. Private consumers are not protected by that law.

"It's so important that it remains open and accessible for everyone," Brown said in a statement before signing the state net neutrality bill. "In Oregon, we want to make sure that access to the internet is a level playing field, instead of exacerbating economic disparity."

Oregon's law was more conservative than Washington's law, which required all providers in the state operate on net neutral standards. Eight other states passed laws like Washington's, with California's law seen as the strongest, which lead to the U.S. Department of Justice filing suit.

Tuesday's federal ruling effectively enshrined the 2017 rollback of net neutrality laws. Pai claimed victory.

"Today's decision is a victory for consumers, broadband deployment and the free and open Internet," Pai said in a statement.

Their court opponents, Mozilla, said the fight for net neutrality isn't over.

"We are encouraged to see the court free states to enact net neutrality rules that protect consumers. We are considering our next steps in the litigation around the FCC's 2018 order," Mozilla Chief Legal Officer Amy Keating said in a statement.

How seriously net neutrality rules affect consumers depends on broadband providers' decisions and who offers access in any market. While some cities and towns have as few as a single provider, Eugene is home to several smaller providers such as XS Media.

Parac said his company could make more money by adjusting the way it provides broadband services to local customers, but he said XS Media always has provided net neutral service. He said he hopes other states continue to draw up laws to enshrine net neutrality.

"It's not about making more money. It's about doing the right thing," he said. "Individuals states, now it's up to them to safeguard net neutrality."

The federal ruling Tuesday allows for the FCC to object to state laws, but the agency can't preemptively strike them down.

"If the Commission can explain how a state practice actually undermines the 2018 order, then it can invoke conflict preemption," the ruling reads. "If it cannot make that showing, then presumably the two regulations can coexist."

©2019 The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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