WASHINGTON – A federal judge Tuesday cleared California for enforcement of its net neutrality law and denied a request from telecommunications providers to postpone state regulations to ensure equal access to Internet content.
Judge John Mendez of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California denied an injunction by the group of internet service providers that challenged the entry into force of the 2018 law.
Net neutrality is the idea that all Internet content should be accessible to consumers and that broadband providers cannot block or degrade content, especially websites and services that compete with their own services.
California law was created after the Trump-era Federal Communications Commission withdrew its federal net neutrality ordinance in 2017. The Justice Department immediately sued the state to repeal its law. Broadband providers petitioned for an injunction through their trading groups to stop California law as the lawsuit snaked through the courts.
The trade groups that sued the state said in a joint statement that they would review the court ruling and consider next steps. However, they spoke out against state laws that create a patchwork of regulations for broadband providers.
“A government approach to regulating the Internet will confuse consumers and discourage innovation, just as the importance of broadband to everyone has never been more evident,” the groups said.
The court’s decision paves the way for California to pass its law. This step is likely to be repeated by other states if there is no federal rule. Washington, Vermont and Oregon are among a handful of states that passed laws after the federal government withdrew the rules.
“We applaud the court for confirming California’s power to protect access to the Internet.” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “An ISP’s ability to block, slow down, or speed up content based on a user’s ability to pay for services undermines the idea of a competitive marketplace and the open transmission of information at the core of our increasingly digital and connected world. ”
The Biden government is expected to support the reinstatement of the federal net neutrality rules. A month after the new administration began, the Department of Justice dropped its lawsuit against California law, leaving only the telecommunications industry’s request for an injunction as the final hurdle for the law to go into effect.
Scott Wiener, the California state senator who wrote the law, described the decision as a victory. “The internet is at the heart of modern life. We should all be able to decide for ourselves where to go on the Internet and how to access information. We can’t let big companies make these decisions for us, ”he said.
Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat who is the incumbent FCC chair, firmly opposed the agency’s 2017 decision to abolish net neutrality regulations. It has not announced any plans to reintroduce federal regulations. Her focus was on the mission of Congress to bridge the digital broadband divide for low-income Americans.
“When the FCC withdrew their #net neutrality guidelines over my objection, states like California tried to fill the gap with their own laws.” she said in a tweet. “Tonight, a court in California ruled that state law can go into effect. This is big news for the #openinternet policy. “