Last month California passed the country’s strongest net neutrality law. But it will be a while before it takes effect.
The same evening Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law, the US Department of Justice filed suit to block it. On Friday, California attorney general Xavier Becerra reached a deal with the DOJ to delay implementing the law until a federal lawsuit over net neutrality is resolved. That could take years.
California’s law is designed to replace Obama-era rules by the Federal Communications Commission that banned internet providers like Comcast and AT&T from blocking or otherwise discriminating against lawful content. As part of an order passed last year jettisoning those rules, the FCC also banned states from passing their own net neutrality rules, though it’s not clear if the FCC has that authority.
The FCC order repealing those rules is now the subject of a legal battle between the agency and state attorneys general, consumer advocacy groups, and the technology industry. If those groups win in court, the California law might not be needed, since federal net neutrality regulations could remain in place. Also, the courts could uphold the FCC’s decision to jettison the net neutrality rules, but toss out the provision banning states from passing their own rules. That would strengthen California’s eventual case against the DOJ.
The outcome of the lawsuit against the FCC’s order won’t necessarily resolve the issue in California, however. US attorney general Jeff Sessions has also argued that the California law is invalid because it attempts to regulate interstate commerce, which only the federal government can regulate. It’s also possible that congressional action to either restore the FCC rules or create new federal-level regulations could also render the California law moot.
“Of course, I very much want to see California’s net neutrality law go into effect immediately, in order to protect access to the internet,” California state senator Scott Wiener, who sponsored the net neutrality bill, said in a statement. “Yet I also understand and support the attorney general’s rationale for allowing the DC Circuit appeal to be resolved before we move forward to defend our net neutrality law in court.”
California isn’t the only state trying to take net neutrality protection into its own hands. Washington and Oregon have passed their own, less robust laws, and the governors of several other states have issued executive orders banning state agencies from doing business with internet providers that don’t honor net neutrality.
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