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Supreme Court refuses to hear Net Neutrality appeal overturn

A two-year legal battle about preserving Net Neutrality legislation that was made moot by new regulations has ended, as the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the case.

U.S. Supreme Court building

U.S. Supreme Court building


The decision to not hear the appeal was mostly symbolic, as the Net Neutrality regulations in question that were preserved by a lower court prior to the institution of the new rules have since been replaced. The new regulations that took effect in June removes restrictions that were previously placed on the internet providers in regards to paid prioritization, or traffic throttling.

Spearheaded by Federal Communication Commission chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican with ties to Verizon, the new regulations rolled back Title II limits classifying internet service providers as utilities that were ushered in during the Obama administration.

"The Internet wasn't broken in 2015, when the prior FCC buckled to political pressure and imposed heavy-handed Title II rules on the Internet economy," Pai said in a statement. "It doesn't make sense to apply outdated rules from 1934 to the Internet, but that's exactly what the prior Administration did."

The public has been promised protection by the Federal Trade Commission, but critics — including activist groups, and corporations such as Apple — worried that without the internet being treated as a Title II utility, providers will feel free to preferentially throttle bandwidth, or even force people to pay extra for reasonable access to specific websites and services. That could have a severe impact on startups unable to make deals with ISPs.

Opponents of net neutrality, including Pai and the administration of President Donald Trump, view it as unnecessary government regulation that stifles innovation. They believe that consumers can flee a misbehaving ISP, and that the Federal Trade Commission, and not the FCC, should be used to punish internet service providers who abuse open access.

The FCC's own data on ISP choice somewhat belies that assumption, with users in heavily populated areas having some choice, but the vast majority of the country having only one option for high-speed internet access. A new broadband survey data set included in Appendix F1 is reportedly due in December, but a call made to the FCC on Monday morning regarding the report by AppleInsider suggests that it may be delayed until well into 2019 and possibly early 2020.

Supporters of net neutrality fear that without protections in place up front, service providers like Spectrum or Verizon will be able to create a tiered internet, where certain services, like Apple Music or the App Store, could see their speeds throttled or even blocked. Customers, in this hypothetical situation, might need to pay more for true access to various services. Supporters also point out that consumer choice will prevent ISP misdeeds —a key argument used by Pai to promote the repeal —isn't viable, because of the lack of actual choices for consumers across a large area of the country.

Apple has opposed the net neutrality repeal because of the potential impact on its devices and services. A person might be less likely to use Apple Music or buy the latest iPhone, for example, if they expect their online bandwidth to be hampered.

"An open internet ensures that hundreds of millions of consumers get the experience they want, over the broadband connections they choose, to use the devices they love, which have become an integral part of their lives," the company wrote in an August letter to the FCC.

Judges Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas signaled that had the court heard the case, they would have tossed the appeal court's decision. Chief Justice John Roberts, and Brett Kavanaugh were recused.