California Can Enforce Its Own Strict Net Neutrality Law

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Open Internet Victory? Ruling from US federal judge rejects attempt by US broadband providers to block California’s tough net neutrality law

California has won a significant legal victory that will allow it to finally implement its own tough net neutrality laws in the US state.

CNN reported that industry groups had asked the US District Court for the Eastern District of California to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the legislation, but the groups’ request was denied this week.

This means that California will finally be able to implement its own laws that it passed way back in 2018, in a noteworthy victory for campaigners.

internet net neutrality (C) Peshkova - Shutterstock

Net neutrality

In September 2018 California had clashed the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), after the US regulator controversially voted in 2017 to federally “roll back” Obama-era net neutrality rules for the United States.

The Californian net neutrality rule (SB 822) was designed to combat the FCC overturning those rules that prevented internet service providers from selectively blocking, slowing or speeding up apps and websites.

But in October 2018, the US Justice Department filed an injunction to stop Californian implementing its own net neutrality law.

The Trump administration argued that the FCC, not the states, held exclusive authority to set net neutrality rules.

The Biden administration is not intending to continue the DoJ litigation.

But that still left a lawsuit against California brought by industry groups including the American Cable Association, the wireless trade group CTIA, the cable trade group NCTA and USTelecom.

Judge ruling

But CNN reported that Judge John Mendez this week unexpectedly delivered his decision allowing the law to be enforced during a conference call involving the parties.

During the hearing, it became clear the judge was not persuaded that federal law preempts states from enforcing their own net neutrality rules, according to Andrew Schwartzman, an outside attorney involved in the case who weighed in in support of California.

“He also seemed to think it was very important that internet service providers had failed to show that they face significant harm from California’s net neutrality requirements,” Schwartzman was quoted as saying.

And campaigners were quick to claim victory.

“States like California sought to fill the void with their own laws,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted on Tuesday evening. “Tonight a court in California decided that the state law can go into effect. This is big news for #openinternet policy.”

In a joint statement, the cable and telecom trade groups said they would review the judge’s opinion before deciding on next steps, and called for the US Congress to draft a single set of net neutrality rules for the country.

State challenge

However the decision by Trump’s FCC to overturn the net neutrality laws was highly controversial.

The FCC faced a legal challenge in the US federal court system from a number of US states.

A group of 22 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia had asked the appeals court to reinstate the rules, as well as to block the FCC’s effort to pre-empt states from imposing their own rules guaranteeing an open internet.

Mozilla and other tech groups were also part of the court case.

But in October 2019 the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued its mixed ruling on the matter.

It largely upheld the FCC repeal of the net neutrality law. But significantly, the appeals court also ruled that the FCC had overstepped its legal authority when it declared that US states cannot pass their own net neutrality laws.

In February 2020 the US Appeals Court finally ruled that it would not reconsider the October 2019 ruling that largely upheld the repeal of landmark net neutrality rules.

It remains to be seen whether the FCC, under the Biden administration, will restore the net neutrality laws.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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