Court Clears Way for California Net Neutrality Law

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(Image credit: Witthaya Prasongsin via Getty Images)

A California judge will allow the state's net neutrality law to go into effect, according to multiple reports on the ruling, which was handed down from the bench following oral argument Tuesday (Feb. 23).

The Biden Department of Justice had dropped its participation in a challenge to the law--the enforcement of which was held in abeyance until the legal challenge was resolved--but ISPs continued to press their case.

Also Read: OTI Says DOJ Should Drop California Net Neutrality Law Challenge

The government had been seeking a preliminary injunction to block California from being able to enforce the law. ACA Connects and other ISP organizations had filed motions to put the California law on hold.

ISPs had argued that California's adoption of rules was preempted by the FCC's decision to roll back its rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization, which had prompted California to similar new rules of its own to fill that regulatory void. The new law was put on hold pending the outcome of the legal case, which District Judge John A. Mendez rendered.

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"I don’t think that most of the attorneys in the case expected a ruling from the bench today," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior counselor at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, which was one of the amici curiae in the case. "This is a huge victory for net neutrality, and bodes well for other states that have adopted net neutrality requirements," he said.

"It became clear during the hearing that Judge Mendez understood that arguments contending that California is precluded from enforcing its own net neutrality requirements could not surmount the heavy burden of showing clear Congressional intent to preclude states from enforcing their own net neutrality requirements in the face of the Trump-era FCC’s decision declaring a policy of 'non-regulation.'" 

The FCC is expected ultimately to reverse that decision once it has a majority, unless a Democratic Congress beats it to the punch with national legislation clarifying the FCC's internet regulatory authority.

The California law was passed in 2018, but its implementation was stayed pending the ultimate legal determination on the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom Order eliminating the rules--federal appeals court upheld the majority of the decision (Oct. 1, 2019)--as well as of various motions in the California district court.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.