California wins court victory for its net neutrality law

WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Tuesday cleared the way for California to enforce its net neutrality law, denying a request by telecommunications providers to delay state rules aimed at ensuring equitable access to Internet content.

Judge John Méndez of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California denied a motion for preliminary injunction filed by the group of Internet service providers who had filed a lawsuit to prevent the 2018 state law from entering in force.

Net neutrality is the notion that all content on the Internet must be accessible to consumers and that broadband providers cannot block or downgrade content, particularly sites and services that compete with their own services.

The California law was created after the Trump-era Federal Communications Commission in 2017 revoked its federal net neutrality regulation. The Justice Department immediately sued the state to repeal its law. Broadband providers, through their business groups, followed up with a request for a preliminary injunction to stop California law while the lawsuit made its way through the courts.

The trade groups suing the state said in a joint statement that they were reviewing the court decision and deliberating on next steps. But they argued against state laws that create a patchwork of regulations for broadband providers.

“A state-by-state approach to Internet regulation will confuse consumers and deter innovation, just as the importance of broadband for everyone has never been more apparent,” the groups said.

The court’s ruling paves the way for California to enact its law, a move that is expected to be replicated by other states in the absence of a federal rule. Washington, Vermont and Oregon are among a handful of states that also enacted laws after the federal repeal of the rules.

“We applaud the court for affirming that California has the power to protect Internet access,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “The ability of an Internet service provider to block, slow down or accelerate content based on the user’s ability to pay for the service degrades the very idea of ​​a competitive market and open information transfer at the core of our world. increasingly digital and connected. “

The Biden administration is expected to support the reinstatement of federal net neutrality rules. A month after the new administration, the Justice Department dropped its lawsuit against the California law, leaving only the telecommunications industry’s request for a preliminary injunction as the last obstacle to getting the law into effect.

Scott Wiener, the California state senator who wrote the law, called the decision a victory. “The Internet is at the heart of modern life. We should all be able to decide for ourselves where we go on the Internet and how we access information. We cannot allow large corporations to make those decisions for us, ”he said.

Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat who is the acting chairman of the FCC, fiercely opposed the agency’s decision in 2017 to remove net neutrality regulations. It has not announced plans to reinstate federal rules. It has focused on a congressional mandate to bridge the digital divide for broadband access to low-income Americans.

“When the FCC, despite my objection, reversed its net neutrality policies, states like California sought to fill the void with their own laws.” she said in a tweet. “Tonight, a California court decided that state law can go into effect. This is great news for #openinternet politics. “

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