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Court upholds net neutrality repeal, but lets states pass their own

Mozilla's case against the FCC largely fails, though DC appeals court says preemption of state and local laws goes too far

Although a new ruling from the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia this week mostly represents a defeat for proponents of net neutrality, it is a victory for state governments hoping to pass their own laws reinstating similar protections.

Since the 2017 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote to dismantle net neutrality (which took effect the following year), numerous companies, organizations, and political figures have made attempts to reinstate the prohibitions against ISPs' ability to prioritize internet traffic, to little success. One such case brought by Mozilla saw a final ruling today that upheld the majority of the FCC's decision, saying the government body did indeed have the authority to reclassify ISPs as it had.

However, the court vacated one portion of the FCC's 2018 Order, referred to as the Preemption Directive. This directive preempts any state or local laws that appear to contradict the FCC's order, making it illegal for individual states to pass their own net neutrality laws. However, the court argues that the order "goes far beyond conflict preemption" and was "meant...to wipe out a broader array of state and local laws than traditional conflict preemption principles would allow."

With that, states such as California and Washington that have in the past attempted to pass their own versions of net neutrality are able to do so, though a Trump administration lawsuit against California that was put on hold for the Mozilla v. FCC ruling may challenge that notion once more.

Additionally, two other segments of the order were questioned by the court, which asked for further explanation and detail: one regarding safety concerns and more specifically issues where first responders might find their data throttled during emergencies, and one regarding utility pole access.

Mozilla has responded to the near-total loss of its case with a statement, reported by The Verge: "Our fight to preserve net neutrality as a fundamental digital right is far from 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, and are grateful to be a part of a broad community pressing for net neutrality protections in courts, states and in Congress."

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