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Attorney General Rob Bonta. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Internet Service Providers Drop California Net Neutrality Lawsuit

Agreement to dismiss case between telecommunications companies, AG Bonta ends nearly 4 year legal battle

By Evan Symon, May 5, 2022 12:01 pm

In a Sacramento federal court filing on Wednesday, multiple telecommunication companies agreed to drop their effort to stop the state’s net neutrality law.

The joint decision by the internet service providers (ISPs) and Attorney General Rob Bonta ended the nearly four-year old battle over net neutrality in California. The debate and legal battle over net neutrality dates back to 2018. That year, Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) wrote Senate Bill 822, also known as the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018. SB 822’s language prevents internet providers from blocking the internet or slowing internet speeds if the user was using it lawfully. The bill also prevents companies from blocking user access to devices, would not be able to institute ‘premium’ website access similar to premium cable packages, and other actions that make it difficult for users to access and use the internet if their use was lawful.

However, the state was sued almost immediately after then-Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law. Two lawsuits tied up the state from implementing net neutrality measures until February of 2021. That month, a U.S. District Court ruled in favor of California, finally allowing the state to begin enforcing it. However, ISPs were not done and petitioned the U.S. Appeals Court to stop the law. 11 months later in January 2022, the court upheld the District ruling. ISPs tried again shortly after asking for an en banc rehearing with all judges present, but that was also denied last month.

With the Biden administration throwing their weight behind California and the Supreme Court the only other place left to go, telecom companies had no choice but to end the fight in California on Wednesday.

AG Bonta declared victory following the decision on Wednesday.

“My office has fought for years to ensure that internet service providers can’t interfere with or limit what Californians do online,” said Bonta in a statement. “Now the case is finally over. Following multiple defeats in court, internet service providers have abandoned this effort to block enforcement of California’s net neutrality law. With this victory, we’ve secured a free and open internet for California’s 40 million residents once and for all.”

The ISPs, led by companies such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, said in a statement of their own that “broadband providers are united in support of an open internet,” reaffirming their stance that current internet laws are outdated and hurt investment. Instead of continuing to fight in California, they have opted to work with Congress and the FCC in Washington for more of a federal approach to net neutrality.

“Now that ACA Connects v. Bonta is done with, and they still haven’t played the Supreme Court card, it means they are now either going to await the federal decision or challenge another state that has a different thinking of net neutrality down,” said San Jose-based tech lawyer Zachary Goodman to the Globe on Thursday. “It won’t be the last we’ve heard of it of course, especially with federal decisions over it, but those in California who have been for net neutrality can count this as a big victory today.”

With legal challenges now gone, SB 822 is expected to remain in place in California for at least the foreseeable future barring a major federal decision or new bill being passed overriding it.

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Evan Symon
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