Court Upholds Net Neutrality Repeal, With Some Caveats

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court upheld on Tuesday the government’s dismantling of rules that regulate companies that connect consumers to the internet, but said that the Federal Communications Commission had overstepped by broadly blocking state and local governments from writing their own rules.

The mixed ruling, by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, gave both supporters and opponents of so-called net neutrality rules a chance to declare victory, and ensures that debate about the issue will continue. The rules prohibited broadband internet providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content.

But over all, the decision Tuesday was a victory for the Trump administration, which has encouraged deregulation across the government. The F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Trump, made the repeal of the rules a top priority. The vote to throw out the rules, made in a 3-2 party-line vote in 2017, reversed the agency’s 2015 decision, during the Obama administration.

The appeals court upheld the F.C.C.’s decision to no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, or a “common carrier,” like phone service.

“Regulation of broadband Internet has been the subject of protracted litigation, with broadband providers subjected to and then released from common carrier regulation over the previous decade,” the court wrote in its opinion. “We decline to yet again flick the on-off switch of common-carrier regulation under these circumstances.”

Mr. Pai said the decision was “a victory for consumers, broadband deployment, and the free and open Internet.” He said the commission looked forward to addressing the “narrow issues” that the court sent back to the commission.

But opponents of the repeal said that the battle over the rules would continue.

Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the two Democrats on the five-member F.C.C., wrote on Twitter that the agency’s 2017 repeal was “on the wrong side of the American people and the wrong side of history. Let’s keep up the fight.”

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

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