On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge John Mendez denied a request from telecommunication companies to block California’s net neutrality law, allowing the state to enforce it after a three year wait.
The three year battle over California’s law began in 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 would prevent internet providers from blocking the internet or slowing internet speeds if the user was using it lawfully. The bill also would prevent companies from blocking user access to devices, would not be able to institute ‘premium’ website access similar premium cable packages, and other actions that would make it difficult for users to access and use the internet if their use was lawful.
After a divisive series of speeches and votes, both houses of the California legislature passed it, with former Governor Jerry Brown signing it into law soon after. Federal agencies and telecommunications companies challenged the bill almost immediately, bringing about two large lawsuits against the state. Both lawsuits halted SB 822 from being implemented in California, which in turn delayed plans to to introduce legislation for similar plans.
Throughout 2019 and 2020, courts repeatedly ruled in favor of California, with both the telecom companies and the U.S. Government appealing the decisions to higher and higher courts. However, in 2021, the Biden administration, friendly to California’s net neutrality law, began to shake things up. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice dropped the federal suit. Without federal backing, the telecoms case to block net neutrality crumbled, leading to the ruling in the District Court on Friday.
“Let’s say SB 822 is enjoined,” said Judge Mendez on Tuesday in Sacramento. “And thanks to the recent repeal of federal net neutrality rules, there is no power by the FCC to regulate your clients. Why shouldn’t a court be concerned if there is no regulation over ISPs? Everyone has been on their best behavior since 2018, waiting for whatever happened in the DC Circuit weighing the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. I don’t place weight on the argument that everything is fine and we don’t need to worry.
“This decision today is a legal decision and shouldn’t be viewed in the political lens. I’m not expressing anything on the soundness of the policy. That might better be resolved by Congress than by federal courts.”
SB 822 to finally be implemented in California
Judge Mendez’s ruling now paves the way for SB 822 to be implemented in California, benefitting many West coast based internet companies while completely unraveling many speed limiting and different price models for internet planned by internet providers mostly based East of the Mississippi.
Senator Wiener, who wrote the net neutrality bill three years ago to ensure open access to the internet, praised the decision on Tuesday.
“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,” said Wiener. “We cannot allow big corporations to make those decisions for us.”
While other supporters celebrated the decision on Tuesday, multiple telecommunications companies gave a joint statement against the decision and announced that they were deciding on whether or not to appeal to a higher court.
“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,” stated the companies in a joint press release on Tuesday.
Many experts have noted that California’s ruling and full implementation in the coming weeks will have a likely effect on other states.
“Over half the states either have legislation passed or awaiting word on California,” telecommunication lawyer William Lowe told the Globe. “California is incredibly influential in it’s legislation, so if the federal government doesn’t outright bring about net neutrality by law, California is going to lead the way with this. A lot of companies are worried right now let me tell you.”
Californian agencies are expected to install SB 822 net neutrality laws soon.