California Restores Net Neutrality Rules, Justice Dept. Sues

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law restoring net neutrality rules that the Trump administration had repealed. The law prevents broadband and wireless companies from blocking or throttling access to Internet content or charging for faster speeds to favor one website over another. The Department of Justice quickly stated it would sue California to block the new law, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions adding that, “under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce — the federal government does.”

The Los Angeles Times reports Sessions added that, “once again the California legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy.” FCC chair Ajit Pai, appointed by Trump, said, “he was pleased with the lawsuit,” and noted that a federal appellate court ruled that, “state regulation of information services is preempted by federal law.”

Passage of the California law “capped months of feuding between tech advocates and telecom industry lobbyists … [and] telecom giants such as AT&T and Verizon Communications,” with both sides pouring money into it.

“The fight for social change and progressive values is directly tied to a free and open Internet,” said assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), who was co-author of the bill, which was introduced by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). Wiener said “he believed California would be able to defend it in court.”

“We’ve been down this road before,” he said. “California fought Trump and Sessions on their immigration lawsuit. California won — and California will fight this lawsuit as well.”

According to experts, “the new law would impose the toughest net neutrality regulations in the country by reinstating the rolled-back federal regulations at the state level.” The law also added “new restrictions on some zero-rated data plans.” The state attorney general will be responsible for “evaluating potential evasion of the net neutrality rules.”

Net neutrality laws at the state level are now “a rallying issue for the party’s candidates in House races across the country,” and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had urged Brown to sign the bill. At USTelecom, a Washington-based lobbying group, president/chief executive Jonathan Spalter countered that, “we all support strong and enforceable net neutrality protections for every American.”

“This bill is neither the way to get there, nor will it help advance the promise and potential of California’s innovation DNA,” he said.

Ars Technica reports that lobbying groups for AT&T and Verizon have “also threatened to sue states that impose net neutrality rules.” It notes that, “FCC’s power to preempt state laws isn’t unlimited,” pointing out that, “the FCC previously tried to preempt state laws that restrict the growth of municipal broadband networks, but a federal appeals court struck down that FCC decision in 2016.”

In addition to California’s new legislation, state attorneys general, consumer advocacy groups and technology leaders filed a lawsuit seeking “to reinstate the federal net neutrality rules” and also challenge “the FCC preemption of state laws.”

Governor Brown also recently signed SB-327 into law, making California the first state with a cybersecurity law covering IoT devices. “Starting on January 1st, 2020, any manufacturer of a device that connects ‘directly or indirectly’ to the Internet must equip it with ‘reasonable’ security features, designed to prevent unauthorized access, modification, or information disclosure,” reports The Verge.