A District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision earlier this month affirms that internet service providers may institute pay-to-play policies – giving priority to content providers who pay a fee – and largely upheld the Federal Communications Commission’s rollback of net neutrality rules.

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The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has long opposed the repeal of net neutrality, saying such a move could negatively impact real estate professionals’ ability to reach a wider audience online. If a large online real estate ad company’s listings load more quickly, consumers would be less likely to visit slow-loading websites hosted by smaller brokers and agents.

However, part of the court’s ruling leaves room for state and local governments to develop and implement their own internet regulations, which the FCC attempted to prohibit. This presents a possibility: Real estate professionals and other small-business owners can remain protected by some form of net neutrality law on the state or local level, even if such laws aren’t recognized federally.

Without net neutrality, internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon can restrict the content consumers see. NAR’s policy is to support “legislative and regulatory efforts to ensure that broadband providers adhere to net neutral practices,” according to an FAQ at nar.realtor.

NAR supports seven net neutrality-related principles:

  1. Consumers are entitled to access the lawful internet content of their choice.
  2. Consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
  3. Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
  4. Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.
  5. Network providers should not discriminate among internet data transmissions on the basis of the source of the transmission as they regulate the flow of network content.
  6. Broadband providers must be transparent about the service they provide and how they run their network.
  7. These principles should apply to both wireless and wired networks.

Net neutrality protections were first implemented under the Obama Administration on the theory that internet users should be able to control what content they view and what applications they use on the internet. However, the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality in 2017 and banned states from passing their own rules.

Soon after the FCC’s decision, multiple state attorneys general, internet industry groups, and nonprofit organizations filed suit, calling the FCC’s ruling unlawful.

It’s unclear whether the latest court ruling will be appealed. Even though the ruling leaves no federal regulations in place to prevent internet providers from blocking or slowing access to websites or charging for higher-quality service, experts say this removes a major roadblock for states to defend their laws in court, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Source: “Appeals court upholds net neutrality repeal but rules FCC can’t block state laws” (The Hill, Oct. 1, 2019), “Upholding FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules, court opens door for California to enforce its own” (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 3, 2019), “FCC Rollback of Net Neutrality Rules Is Partly Upheld by Appeals Court” (The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 1, 2019), and REALTOR® Magazine

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