California May Soon Enforce Its Own Net Neutrality Rules

October 15, 2019 Updated: October 15, 2019

After a three-judge panel from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals recently upheld a 2017 decision by the Trump administration to repeal Obama-era regulations regarding net neutrality, California may have gained the opportunity to enforce its own rules.

The court, while upholding much of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repeal, stated the agency couldn’t block states from having their own state-level rules.

California passed legislation addressing net neutrality in 2018, but it was put on hold amid legal challenges. The bill, SB-822, passed largely along party lines last fall, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

The principle of net neutrality requires internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all internet traffic equally. 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.

“Net neutrality is about each of us deciding where we’re going to go on the internet, as opposed to corporations telling us where we have to go,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, co-sponsor of SB-822, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “This is about people being able to decide what websites they go to for their news, to go shopping, to engage in the community, as opposed to corporations like AT&T and Verizon manipulating us to go to favored websites.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai hailed the recent court decision, saying that it solidifies the 2017 FCC changes to the Obama administration’s 2015 rules on net neutrality.

“Today’s decision is a victory for consumers, broadband deployment, and the free and open Internet,” Pai said in a statement at the time. “The court also upheld our robust transparency rule so that consumers can be fully informed about their online options.”

The Obama administration’s 2015 net neutrality rules reclassified internet ISPs under the Communications Act of 1934, from Title 1 “information services” to title II “common carrier services,” giving the FCC the power to regulate ISPs.

Upon becoming FCC chairman in 2017, Pai moved to repeal the 2015 rules and return to classifying ISPs as Title 1 services. In June 2018, the repeal became official. The recent court decision solidifies its legality, but also allows for states such as California to pursue their own agenda.

President Donald Trump also supported the ruling in a tweet on Oct. 7.

“We just WON the big court case on Net Neutrality Rules! A great win for the future and speed of the internet. Will lead to many big things including 5G. Congratulations to the FCC and its Chairman, Ajit Pai!” he wrote.

California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with 22 other states’ attorneys general, had originally sued the FCC for its 2017 repeal action.

“Today’s decision blocks the FCC’s effort to preempt state net neutrality laws through regulation,” Becerra said in a statement on Oct. 1. “This decision also underscores the FCC’s failure to adequately consider public safety concerns, or impacts on low-income Americans, when it issued this ill-conceived rule.”

The court further mandated that the FCC’s net neutrality repeals wouldn’t restrict access to internet services for first responders and low-income users. The court cited testimony from Santa Clarita County, California, firefighters, who claimed their internet service was severely limited during the Mendocino Complex fire.