Mozilla v. FCC: In praise of a lighter touch approach

Yesterday, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia released its decision [186 pages, pdf] in Mozilla v. FCC, better known as the challenge to the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom order.

A few excerpts are notable from my initial read. Among the first paragraphs is this summary:

Petitioners––an array of Internet companies, non-profits, state and local governments, and other entities––bring a host of challenges to the 2018 Order. We find their objections unconvincing for the most part, though we vacate one portion of the 2018 Order and remand for further proceedings on three discrete points.

On the question of broadband investment being inhibited by heavy-handed regulation and being promoted under the FCC’s lighter-touch approach:

We are, in short, unpersuaded by Petitioners’ and Intervenors’ objections to the Commission’s finding and their implicit claim that uncertainties associated with that finding render arbitrary the Commission’s overall judgment—that there are net public policy benefits from reclassification, based not only on a likelihood of increased investment and innovation but also on the absence of any “discernable incremental benefit relative to Title I classification.”

The court discusses the economic analyses at length, including a criticism of “Mozilla does not address shortcomings of the Free Press figures, pinpointed by the agency, including for example its failure to exclude investment abroad.”

As to the benefits of a “light-touch” regulatory approach,

the 2018 Order’s transparency rules—combined with the deterrent effects of “market forces, public opprobrium, and enforcement of the consumer protection laws”—can “mitigate potential harms.”

In sum, a “light-touch” approach can in the Commission’s judgment secure Internet openness and encourage innovation at lower cost than the Title II Order, while yielding unique benefits.

The court’s decision is quite readable, as are the 2 concurring opinions and the third appended opinion that concurs in part and dissents in part (with respect to the part of the ruling that vacates the FCC’s preemption of state law. While a number of media accounts seem to suggest that the ruling will allow state-by-state regulation of net neutrality, this is an incorrect reading.

There are discussions throughout the court ruling that appear to be quite relevant to Canada’s regulatory environment.

In “Keeping out of the way”, I wrote: “I continue to look optimistically to the future. As I have written before [such as here and here], the future will be brighter for Canadian innovation if the government would try harder to get out of the way.”

Scroll to Top