Net neutrality decision has both sides declaring a win

The DC Circuit Court upholds the FCC's net neutrality repeal, but it also opens the door for states to enact their own laws. Here's what everyone's saying about the ruling.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
7 min read
Protestors Rally At FCC Against Repeal Of Net Neutrality Rules

An federal appeals court has finally ruled on the FCC's repeal of the 2015 net neutrality rules. 

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

A much-anticipated federal appellate court decision on net neutrality gave both sides of the debate a chance to claim victory.

In a nearly 200-page opinion issued Tuesday, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most of the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of Obama-era rules on internet traffic. The court agreed that the agency hadn't overreached its authority when it deregulated broadband companies like Comcast and Verizon.  

But the court also struck down a key aspect of the agency's order, which allowed the FCC to preempt laws that states had enacted to protect net neutrality, the concept that all internet traffic should be treated the same. The court also told the FCC it didn't give adequate consideration to how the repeal would affect public safety and programs, such as Lifeline, which provides subsidies to low-income individuals for phone and internet services.

Watch this: Scott Wiener says California can save the internet

The mixed decision has both sides of the controversial issue declaring they're the winner. One thing they can agree on is that the fight will continue, with many calling on Congress to take action to settle the controversy once and for all. 

Here are some reactions from both sides of the debate. They've been edited for length.

Net neutrality proponents

Pete Buttigieg, 2020 Presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Indiana

"Our fight for an open Internet is just beginning. As president, I will make net neutrality the law of the land, expand Internet access and opportunity, and protect the free flow of ideas for future generations."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

"Today's decision blocks the FCC's effort to preempt state net neutrality laws through regulation. This decision also underscores the FCC's failure to adequately consider public safety concerns, or impacts on low income Americans, when it issued this ill-conceived rule." 

Vice President of Policy and General Counsel for Free Press Matt Wood 

[FCC Commissioner Ajit] Pai may try a victory lap for today's decision, but no one will be cheering besides his small circle of advisers and the lobbyists that give him his marching orders. The Senate must pass the Save the Internet Act that sailed through the House in April to put the 2015 open-internet rules and the wildly successful legal framework for them even more firmly back in place."

Legal Director for Public Knowledge John Bergmayer 

"We are gratified that the court agreed with Public Knowledge and other petitioners on the matter of preemption. As we argued, once the Commission decided not to regulate broadband, it lost the ability to preempt states from doing so. The Commission's choice to give up oversight of broadband means that states now have the clear authority to step in to protect consumers and promote competition where the FCC is unwilling to do so.

"The court's decision leaves states with a clear path forward to enact state net neutrality laws to protect internet users and provide certainty for participants in the digital economy. States should move expeditiously to protect consumers where the FCC has refused to do so. 

Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams 

"We're gratified that the court has recognized and understood that the law requires the FCC to consider public safety, and we will watch to make sure the Commission takes that responsibility seriously going forward. We're also pleased that the court has recognized the authority of California and other states to enact their own common-sense net neutrality rules.  We look forward to supporting California's net neutrality rules."

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, Democrat

"When the FCC rolled back net neutrality it was on the wrong side of the American people and the wrong side of history. Today's court decision shows that the agency also got it wrong on the law. The agency made a mess when it gave broadband providers the power to block websites, throttle services and censor online content." 

California State Sen. Scott Wiener (Democrat of San Francisco),  author of California's net neutrality law (SB 822) 

"Net neutrality is critical for a free and open internet and for our democracy. We all must have the right to decide -- and not have corporations decide for us -- where we go on the internet and what information we receive...While I'm disappointed that the federal appeals court largely upheld the Trump FCC's repeal of net neutrality, I'm thrilled that the court rejected the FCC's effort to preempt state net neutrality laws."

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (Democrat of New Jersey) and House Communications and Technology Chairman Mike Doyle (Democrat of Pennsylvania) 

"The Trump administration's decision to abandon net neutrality continues to harm consumers and small businesses, leaving a few large corporations in control of an essential component of modern life.  In April, the House passed the Save the Internet Act to restore basic consumer protections online and preserve a free and open Internet. This decision reiterates that the Senate needs to act quickly to pass that legislation to put Americans, not corporations, first."

Sen. Edward J. Markey (Democrat of Massachusetts), a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate author of the Save the Internet Act

"It is more imperative than ever that Congress enacts my 'Save the Internet Act.' This legislation does exactly what the American people want -- it restores the rules that ensure families aren't subject to higher prices, slower internet speeds and even blocked websites because the big broadband providers want to pump up their profits. I call on Leader [Mitch] McConnell to stop the obstruction and bring to a vote on this legislation that passed House of Representatives in April. The future of the internet as we know it depends on it." 

Supporters of FCC net neutrality repeal 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Republican 

"Today's decision is a victory for consumers, broadband deployment, and the free and open Internet. The court affirmed the FCC's decision to repeal 1930s utility-style regulation of the Internet imposed by the prior administration. The court also upheld our robust transparency rule so that consumers can be fully informed about their online options. Since we adopted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, consumers have seen 40% faster speeds and millions more Americans have gained access to the internet. A free and open internet is what we have today and what we'll continue to have moving forward. We look forward to addressing on remand the narrow issues that the court identified."

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, Republican

"The internet has flourished under the light touch approach to regulation that the FCC restored in 2017. Since then, internet speeds are up, prices are down, and the US leapfrogged our global competitors to secure the largest 5G build in the world. By affirming the FCC's authority to take this modern approach to internet regulation, today's court decision will enable us to build on this success for the benefit of all Americans."

Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom, a trade organization representing telephone companies

"The court got it right and affirmed what anyone who has been paying attention to Washington's net neutrality saga knows to be true: the internet is open, ISPs are investing to bring internet users the content they want, and we remain absolutely opposed to anti-consumer practices like blocking, throttling and anti-competitive paid-prioritization.

"Where do we go from here? While we are still reviewing the details, one thing is clear: Congress must end this regulatory rinse and repeat cycle by passing a strong national framework that applies to all companies, maintains our dynamic and open internet, and sustains our global digital leadership for the next generation and beyond."

Michael Powell, former FCC chairman and president & CEO of NCTA, a trade group representing broadband and cable operators 

"We are gratified by the court's decision to affirm the FCC's 'light touch' regulatory framework for broadband. As the court affirmed, public utility-style regulation is particularly inapt for a dynamic industry like broadband built on technological innovation and disruption.

"As a practical matter, today's decision will have little impact on consumers' internet experience. It does nothing to change our industry's enduring commitment to providing consumers with the same open internet experience that has been delivered for decades. Only Congress can provide permanent, common sense open internet protections. We urge lawmakers to work together in a bipartisan fashion to craft those rules and provide certainty for consumers and businesses small and large that rely on the internet for continued growth and opportunity."

Meredith Atwell Baker, former FCC commissioner and president & CEO of CTIA, a trade group representing the wireless industry 

"The wireless industry supports an open internet, and we are pleased that the court upheld the FCC's authority to classify mobile broadband. The time is now right for Congress to enshrine permanent neutrality protections into law, thereby safeguarding consumers' interests without discouraging network investments which are vital to promoting innovation and creating jobs."

Sen. Roger Wicker (Republican of Mississippi), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Democrat of Arizona)

"Today's ruling makes clear that Title II regulations [the legal classification that treats broadband like a public utility service] are not required for maintaining an open internet. It is incumbent on Congress to pass federal net neutrality standards that will protect consumers, promote broader access to the internet, and ensure internet providers treat content from all sources fairly," Wicker said. "We need straightforward guidelines that will not change based on who occupies the White House. I look forward to continuing to work toward these goals with Senator Sinema as we seek to find common ground on this important issue."

"Net neutrality is critical to maintaining a vibrant internet. We need a modern, internet-specific framework that encourages the freedom and innovation that make the internet the vital tool it is today," Sinema said. "Today's court decision makes clear Congress must pass a bipartisan, comprehensive net neutrality solution that offers certainty to consumers and providers."