U.S. Justice Department Sues California for Reimposing Strict Net Neutrality Protections
On Sunday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that will bring back strict net neutrality protections to users in the state, four months after net neutrality officially expired in the United States thanks to the FCC’s vote to repeal the regulations last December (via USA Today).
Now that California has renewed net neutrality in the state, the United States Justice Department has filed a lawsuit in attempt to strike down the bill. In a statement, the Justice Department says that California’s Senate Bill 822 “unlawfully imposes burdens on the Federal Government’s deregulatory approach to the Internet.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai also commented on the lawsuit:
Sessions: “Under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce—the federal government does. Once again the California legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy. The Justice Department should not have to spend valuable time and resources to file this suit today, but we have a duty to defend the prerogatives of the federal government and protect our Constitutional order. We will do so with vigor. We are confident that we will prevail in this case—because the facts are on our side.”
Pai: “I’m pleased the Department of Justice has filed this suit. The Internet is inherently an interstate information service. As such, only the federal government can set policy in this area. And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently reaffirmed that state regulation of information services is preempted by federal law.
“Not only is California’s Internet regulation law illegal, it also hurts consumers. The law prohibits many free-data plans, which allow consumers to stream video, music, and the like exempt from any data limits. They have proven enormously popular in the marketplace, especially among lower-income Americans. But notwithstanding the consumer benefits, this state law bans them.”
California is not the first state to pass its own net neutrality bill, but none have yet been as strict. Under the law, California broadband providers will not be able to slow down or block any websites, charge higher fees to customers to receive faster internet speeds, and the law also limits some zero-rated data plans.
Without net neutrality regulations, internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T have the legal ability to throttle any traffic on their networks, and block access to sites and services completely, as long as they inform their customers of their actions. In essence, many have theorized that this could lead to ISPs bundling “packages” of internet sites and selling them like cable companies, as well as putting high-paying customers in “fast lanes” and everyone else in “slow lanes.”
Net neutrality opponents, like Pai, say this will lead to “better, faster, cheaper internet access for consumers, and more competition.” They also cite the return to an “open” and less regulated internet, seen prior to the 2015 induction of net neutrality.
Numerous technology companies have voiced support of net neutrality over the past year, including Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, and more. Apple last year stated that the net neutrality repeal could “fundamentally alter the internet as we know it,” and if it passed it would be put in place to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation.
For California, a legal battle will now happen between the state and the Justice Department, with a few other individuals opposing California’s law. This includes U.S. Telecom Association CEO Jonathan Spalter, who said, “Rather than 50 states stepping in with their own conflicting open internet solutions, we need Congress to step up with a national framework for the whole internet ecosystem and resolve this issue once and for all.”
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