The state of Vermont has agreed to suspend enforcement of its net neutrality law pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission.
In October, the nation’s largest broadband industry lobby groups sued Vermont in a US District Court to stop a state law that requires ISPs to follow net neutrality principles in order to qualify for government contracts.
But the lobby groups and state agreed to delay litigation and enforcement of the Vermont law in a deal that they detailed in a joint court filing yesterday. The lawsuit against Vermont was filed by mobile industry lobby CTIA, cable industry lobby NCTA, telco lobby USTelecom, the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association, and the American Cable Association (ACA).
The delay will remain in place until after a final decision in the lawsuit seeking to reverse the FCC’s net neutrality repeal and the FCC’s preemption of state net neutrality laws. Vermont is one of 22 states that sued the FCC in that case in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Tech companies and consumer advocacy groups are also opposing the FCC in the same case. Oral arguments were held last month, and DC Circuit judges will likely issue a decision in the coming months.
An FCC loss in that case could entirely restore federal net neutrality rules, potentially making the Vermont law redundant. But a partial loss for the FCC could leave the federal repeal in place while allowing states to enforce their own net neutrality laws.
The Vermont delay would remain in place until after all appeals are exhausted in the FCC case, which could potentially reach the US Supreme Court.
California also delayed rules
The Vermont delay is similar to one previously agreed upon in California, where the state government issued a stricter net neutrality law than Vermont’s.
Vermont’s law creates a process in which ISPs can certify that they comply with net neutrality guidelines, and it says that state agencies may only buy Internet service from ISPs that obtain those certifications. To get the certification, ISPs must not engage in paid prioritization and must not block or throttle lawful Internet traffic on any mass-market retail broadband service in Vermont.
However, ISPs could choose not to get the certification and forego the opportunity to sell broadband to state agencies. That limitation could help Vermont’s law survive a legal challenge even if the FCC preemption remains in place.
The ACA celebrated Vermont’s net neutrality delay, claiming that it “will allow continued innovation and investment while these deliberations continue.” The cable industry lobby group did not explain what kind of “innovation” requires blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization.