A federal judge in California has ruled that California can enforce its net neutrality law, rejecting efforts from a group of internet service providers seeking to block the measure.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had issued nationwide net neutrality regulations in 2015 under the Obama administration, but later repealed the rules in 2017 under the Trump administration.
California’s legislature in 2018 passed SB-822 regarding net neutrality, signed by then-Governor Jerry Brown. The net neutrality bill would prevent internet service providers from speeding up or slowing down, or otherwise changing internet access for end users such as though restricting bandwidth or blocking access to certain websites or services, or offering paid fast internet connection.
But the Department of Justice under the Trump administration in 2018 filed a lawsuit to block SB-822, arguing that states do not have the authority to set net neutrality rules. The Biden administration earlier in February dropped the lawsuit.
But in a separate lawsuit, four telecom and broadband industry groups led by Verizon and AT&T asked U.S. District Court Judge John A. Mendez to keep blocking the law. On Tuesday, Mendez, a George W. Bush appointee, denied their request for a preliminary injunction, allowing California to begin enforcing the law.
“I don’t find the plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits at this stage of the litigation,” said Mendez in an oral ruling, according to Courthouse News. “This is not the type of pervasive regulatory system that left no room for state law.”
He said that changes by the FCC in 2018 and the federal Communications Act do not clearly prohibit states from adopting their own laws on net neutrality, the outlet reported. He added that it should be Congress, not the judiciary, that is responsible for providing clarity to internet service providers the matter of regulating internet access and speeds.
In a joint statement, multiple telecom industry associations challenging the law said they will review the judge’s decision “before deciding on next steps.” They urged Congress to set net-neutrality rules for the country rather than relying on states to come up with regulations on their own.
“A state-by-state approach to Internet regulation will confuse consumers and deter innovation, just as the importance of broadband for all has never been more apparent,” read the statement from the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, ACA Connects, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and USTelecom.
Critics say net neutrality would slow down the internet, make it more difficult to block spam, require the hiring of more government bureaucrats, and discourage investment in high-speed internet.
But supporters of net neutrality say that the regulations will provide protections against internet providers favoring their own services by making it harder for customers to access their competitors’ websites and apps.
California state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat, who played a role in authoring the law, called the Tuesday court decision “a huge victory for open access to the internet, our democracy and our economy.”
“The internet is at the heart of modern life. We all should be able to decide for ourselves where we go on the internet and how we access information,” he said in a statement. “We cannot allow big corporations to make those decisions for us.”
Matthew Vadum and The Associated Press contributed to this report.