In a ruling with implications for both net neutrality and privacy, the Ninth Circuit ruled en banc today that the common carrier exemption in Section 5 of the FTC Act is activity-based, reversing a 2016 panel ruling that the exemption was status-based.  Today’s decision bolsters the FTC’s authority to bring consumer protection (including privacy) and competition actions against providers of Internet access service, which the FCC has ruled is not a common carrier service in connection with that agency’s repeal of net neutrality rules.

This appeal arises from the FTC’s lawsuit against AT&T alleging that AT&T’s practice of throttling the speed of customers with unlimited data plans once they reached a certain data usage threshold violated Section 5 of the FTC Act.  AT&T had challenged the FTC’s authority to bring the case, arguing that the company was immune from FTC oversight because it also offers common carrier (e.g., voice telephone) service.  Although the district court sided with the FTC on this question, a 2016 Ninth Circuit panel went the other way and, in doing so, created what the FTC and FCC agreed was a potential ‘gap’ in authority in which neither agency would have the right to police many actions by telecommunications companies. 
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Decision Provides Critical Win to FTC in its Authority over Internet Service Providers

In an opinion released today, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) lawsuit against AT&T for violating Section 5 of the FTC Act due to its throttling practices.  AT&T’s practice of throttling the speed of customers with unlimited data plans once they reached a certain data usage threshold had been challenged by the FTC as both unfair and deceptive under Section 5.  The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s prior ruling denying AT&T’s motion to dismiss on the ground that AT&T was a common carrier and therefore exempt from Section 5 of the FTC Act.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Dismisses FTC’s Throttling Suit Against AT&T