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DOJ Drops Challenge to California Net Neutrality Law

A gavel in a stock photo
(Image credit: Witthaya Prasongsin via Getty Images)

The Biden Justice Department has dropped the Trump Justice Department's challenge to California's net neutrality law.

The court issued a one line statement: "Plaintiff the United States of America, by and through its counsel, hereby gives notice of its voluntary dismissal of this case."

Congressional Democrats had pressed the new administration to drop their support of the legal challenge.

Also Read: OTI Says Court Should Deny Blocking California Law

DOJ under Trump had argued that the FCC elimination of rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization preempted California's attempt to reinstate them in that state, an argument ISPs made in joining DOJ in that legal challenge before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

Attorney Andrew Schwartzman, who backs the California law, said DOJ's dropping of the case was no surprise--given the change in administration and view of net neutrality rules, which Democrats favor--but that it was important because "the views of the United States weigh heavily on preemption questions of the kind raised here."

A hearing on a motion for preliminary injunction in the case, now absent DOJ representatives, is scheduled for Feb. 23. 

Also Read: Judge Moves California Net Neutrality Law Hearing

"Those of us who support the California law believe that challenges to it lack a valid basis," said Schwartzman. "In light of the fact that the FCC disclaimed any jurisdiction over broadband internet service, the FCC's claim of a policy of "non-regulation" leaves the states free to regulate.

The law was passed after the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom (RIF) order scrapped its net neutrality rules banning blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. The FCC's RIF deregulation of internet access included a preemption of state regs that conflicted with that decision. But in 2018, California passed its own tough net neutrality rules anyway to fill what it saw as a regulatory void.

Justice then filed suit in support of the FCC, as did ISPs.

Acting FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who had voted against the FCC order eliminating net neutrality rules, praised the move.

“I am pleased that the Department of Justice has withdrawn this lawsuit," she said in a statement. "When the FCC, over my objection, rolled back its net neutrality policies, states like California sought to fill the void with their own laws. By taking this step, Washington is listening to the American people, who overwhelmingly support an open internet, and is charting a course to once again make net neutrality the law of the land.”

“We applaud the DOJ for dropping this harmful legal challenge," said Joshua Stager, senior counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute. "The Trump administration initiated the lawsuit as a frontal attack on both net neutrality and California’s right to protect consumers. The Biden administration must restore net neutrality, and dropping this case is a good start.

“In 2018, Sacramento legislators passed this law to ensure that Californians get the internet service they paid for without unreasonable interference from their internet provider. That law is needed now more than ever as millions of Californians rely on internet service to get through simultaneous public health, economic, and climate crises. The Department of Justice never should have stood in the way of this law.”