By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The legal fight over a 2016 lower court ruling upholding Obama-era net neutrality regulations aimed at ensuring a free and open internet – rules that have since been repealed by President Donald Trump’s administration – came to a formal end on Monday, with the U.S. Supreme Court declining to take up the matter.
The Trump administration and internet service providers had asked to justices to wipe away the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that had temporarily preserved the net neutrality regulations championed by Democratic former President Barack Obama. But the justices refused to hear the appeals, leaving the lower court ruling in place.
The brief court order noted that three of the court’s conservative justices, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, would have thrown out the appeals court decision. Chief Justice John Roberts and new Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh were both recused from the case.
The Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 in December along party lines to reverse the rules adopted under Obama in 2015 that had barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization.
Obama’s rules, intended to safeguard equal access to content on the internet, were opposed by Trump, a Republican.
The new FCC rules went into effect in June. They give internet service providers greater power to regulate the content that customers access, are now the subject of a separate legal fight after being challenged by many of the groups that backed net neutrality.
The Justice Department has also filed suit to block California’s state net neutrality law from taking effect in January.
The net neutrality repeal was a win for providers like Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc. It was opposed by internet companies like Facebook Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc, which have said the repeal could lead to higher costs.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham)