DOJ sues California after passing groundbreaking net neutrality law

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Sunday to protect the equal distribution of internet bandwidth, making California the first state to enact its own net neutrality rules.

During the Obama era FCC’s enforcement of net neutrality, internet service providers (ISPs), such as Comcast and Verizon, were mandated to provide equal internet speed to all its customers without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.

California’s legislation seeks to take this policy a step further by also making zero-rating offers illegal, an industry practice in which ISPs restrict internet service in return for free data.

The bill, due to take effect Jan. 1, 2019, encompasses the strictest set of net neutrality protections ever in the history of the U.S.

However, the Justice Department quickly responded, declaring the bill unconstitutional. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was highly critical of the legislation, accusing California of attempting to subvert the federal government, which rolled back net neutrality regulations earlier in 2018.

“Under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce — the federal government does,” Sessions said. “Once again the California legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy.”

Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, has also been critical of the Golden State’s efforts, telling the Maine Policy Heritage Center in a September speech:

“The broader problem is that California’s micromanagement poses a risk to the rest of the country. After all, broadband is an interstate service; Internet traffic doesn’t recognize state lines. It follows that only the federal government can set regulatory policy in this area. For if individual states like California regulate the internet, this will directly impact citizens in other states.”

California’s net neutrality protections may seem radical and unnecessary, however the state is merely taking steps to ensure accessible internet service.

In August, it was revealed Verizon throttled, or slowed the Santa Clara County Fire Department’s broadband data service during the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest in California history.

From December 2017 until July, the department battled with Verizon, begging them to stop slowing their internet connection, warning the company of the potential harm to others that could result during emergencies and disasters. It wasn’t until Santa Clara fire agreed to pay fines — more than double their previous bill — that Verizon ended the throttling.

Verizon declared the episode a customer service mistake, claiming “the situation has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court.”

However, Ash Kalra, member of the California State Assembly, begged to differ, stating: “(Verizon’s) throttling has everything to do with net neutrality. It shows that the ISP’s will act in their economic interest even at the expense of public safety.”

With the signing of its net neutrality bill defying federal regulations, California has inadvertently started a war with Washington. Net neutrality can be a very divisive issue, and with growing tensions, do not be surprised if this case makes it to the Supreme Court.


[NBC News] [CNET] [AP] [Ars Technica] [New York Times] [Photo courtesy Getty Images via Newsweek]