The Supreme Court announced Nov. 5 that it will not hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that upheld Obama-era Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules on net neutrality, which were rescinded after President Trump took office last year.
Conservative Justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh abstained from the vote on whether to consider petitions from broadband companies to revisit that decision—which, if struck down by the Supreme Court, would have cemented into law the Trump administration’s shift away from net neutrality.
Among those regulations enacted by the FCC in 2015 are restrictions that prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from slowing down or blocking access to content of their choosing or implementing additional charges for video services like Netflix in exchange for more efficient access to consumers.
In broad terms, net neutrality is a concept that holds that ISPs cannot discriminate—in terms of access or cost—by user, website, platform, or application. All data must be treated equally by the telecom companies that created and own the internet infrastructure.
Civil rights groups consider the abrogation of those FCC guidelines a possible threat to open access for marginalized communities. LGBT people often rely on the internet for affirming messages and information about their communities—resources that can help protect young people who are bullied or otherwise encounter rejection.
“We wouldn’t accept AT&T and Verizon controlling whom we called and what we said on the phone. Accordingly, they cannot be permitted such control over internet content, accessibility and speed. But in the absence of net neutrality, it could happen. Such a reality would be a nightmare, particularly for LGBTQ people,” Lambda Legal’s Digital Content Manager Juliana Vanderlee said last year.
“Stripping away net neutrality is the latest attempt by the Trump Administration to silence voices of already marginalized communities and render us invisible,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD in 2017. “The internet is a lifeline for LGBTQ people to build community support networks and access LGBTQ resources on history, suicide prevention, and health—allowing broadband providers to regulate access is a direct and unconscionable attack on freedom of expression.”
Meanwhile, the Justice Department agreed on Oct. 28 to stand down on its lawsuit, filed against the state of California, over a measure signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that offered some of the strictest protections for net neutrality. In exchange, California must agree to delay enforcement actions until Jan. 1, 2019.
Further complicating matters: if Democrats take over the House, lawmakers are likely to attempt to reinstate the Obama-era FCC guidelines—efforts Trump would be expected to veto.