California’s net neutrality law can go into effect after a federal judge on Tuesday handed a defeat to broadband providers who had pushed to overturn the law.
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.
The move is a major victory for internet activists and state legislators who had passed tough new regulations in 2018 after the Federal Communications Commission rolled back its own net neutrality rules. The state regulations prohibit internet service providers from selectively blocking, slowing or speeding up apps and websites.
Now, as the litigation continues, California can finally enforce its state law, SB 822, which has been described by industry watchers as the strongest of its kind in the country and has been seen as a model for other states. The decision could also build momentum into the effort to restore net neutrality rules at the federal level.
“States like California sought to fill the void with their own laws,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted Tuesday evening. “Tonight a court in California decided that the state law can go into effect. This is big news for #openinternet policy.”
“We’re one step closer to net neutrality being the law of the land,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, an activist organization.
The Trump administration had sued California in 2018 to prevent the law from going into effect, arguing that the FCC, not the states, held exclusive authority to set net neutrality rules. The Biden administration indicated it will not continue the litigation. But that still left a suit brought by industry groups including the American Cable Association, the wireless trade group CTIA, the cable trade group NCTA and USTelecom.
In an unusual move, Judge John Mendez 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 said.
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 Congress to draft a single set of net neutrality rules for the country.
“A state-by-state approach to Internet regulation will confuse consumers and deter network investment,” the groups said, “just as the importance of broadband for all has never been more apparent.”