Reactions to Court Ruling on California Net Neutrality Law

On Feb 23, Judge John Mendez of US District Court for the Eastern District of California rejected a telecommunications-industry challenge to California’s two-year-old net neutrality law, clearing the way for the state to begin enforcing the consumer protections. "I have heard that argument and I don't find it persuasive," Judge Mendez said. "It's going to fall on deaf ears. Everyone has been on their best behavior since 2018, waiting for whatever happened in the DC Circuit [court case over 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."

Benton Institute [which filed an amicus brief in support of California's rules] Senior Counselor Andrew Jay Schwartzman: "This is a huge victory for net neutrality and bodes well for other states that have adopted net neutrality requirements."

California State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who introduced California's net neutrality legislation: "Today's federal court ruling allowing California to enforce our net neutrality law is a huge victory for open access to the Internet, our democracy, and our economy. 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. We cannot allow big corporations to make those decisions for us."

The four trade groups that had filed the lawsuit — America’s Communications Association, CTIA, the NCTA and USTelecom — said they “will review the court’s opinion before deciding on next steps,” signaling a potential appeal that could again forestall enforcement of California’s rules. “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. We agree with the Court that a piecemeal approach is untenable and that Congress should codify rules for an open Internet.”

Barbara van Schewick, law professor at Stanford University: “Today's ruling is a great victory for all Californias and the campaign to restore net neutrality protections nationwide. California is now able to enforce SB822 to ensure that all Californians are protected from unfair practices by the companies they pay to get online. The judge found that the law is on a solid legal foundation and that the ISPs trying to overturn it are not likely to prevail. The judge found, as I’ve long argued, that an agency that says it has no power to regulate, it has no power to tell others they can’t regulate.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra: “We applaud the Court for affirming that California has the power to protect access to the internet, and that net neutrality is vital for healthcare, education, public safety and economic growth. This is an important victory for all Californians and for our democracy. The ability of an internet service provider to block, slow down or speed up content based on a user’s ability to pay for service degrades the very idea of a competitive marketplace and the open transfer of information at the core of our increasingly digital and connected world.”

John Bergmayer, Legal Director at Public Knowledge: “The previous Federal Communications Commission ensured this outcome when it decided it had no authority over broadband. The D.C. Circuit has already made it clear that without the power to regulate, the FCC has no power to prevent states from regulating. Broadband providers nevertheless rushed to court to prevent states from exercising their traditional consumer-protection role. Judge Mendez has rightly rejected their arguments. States have an important, ongoing role in broadband consumer protection. However, if internet service providers wish to avoid a ‘patchwork’ of inconsistent net neutrality rules in different states, they can ask the FCC to reassert its Title II authority over broadband, which will enable the agency to enact nationwide rules. We look forward to working with the new FCC to ensure that consumers nationwide have the same protections that California residents now enjoy.”

Free Press Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood: “California could soon enforce the strong Net Neutrality bill the state passed nearly two-and-a-half years ago on a bipartisan basis. California’s law restores vital nondiscrimination protections that the Trump administration tossed aside on the federal stage. In light of reports about the tenor of Judge Mendez’s decision denying the ISPs’ last-ditch litigation, this industry lawsuit could evaporate even if their lobbyists decide to continue this pointless challenge. There’s been a lot of punditry and industry propaganda about Net Neutrality rules since the FCC repeal took effect in 2018. Among the many bad-faith arguments you’ll hear is that Ajit Pai’s decision didn’t break the internet. But that’s in part precisely because California stepped up, along with other states like Washington, and passed laws that could keep ISPs in check once they were clear of lawsuits like this. Yesterday’s decision removes a huge hurdle. ISPs argue that the Trump FCC’s repeal of broadband protections somehow preempts states’ ability to pass these same kinds of laws, but that claim has now failed the laugh test in federal courts on both coasts. We still need the Biden FCC to reclaim its authority for nationwide open-internet rules and policies promoting affordable internet for everyone. But California’s win is significant because it offers protections to people in our most populous state and drives the national conversation forward.”

Joshua Stager, senior counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute: “This is a long-overdue victory for the open internet and California’s right to protect consumers online. Sacramento legislators passed a net neutrality law in 2018 to ensure that Californians get the internet service they paid for without unreasonable interference from their provider. We look forward to this law finally taking effect to help the millions of Californians who need the open internet to get through ongoing public health, economic, and climate crises. It’s time for the federal government to restore net neutrality for all Americans.”

Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future: "Telecom lobbyists used every dirty trick in the book to try to kill off California’s gold standard net neutrality law. They spent millions on lobbying. They drove misleading robo-calls to senior citizens. They propped up fake astroturf organizations, paid off an academic, and lied through their teeth. And they still lost. That’s because net neutrality is one of the most popular policies of the last century. People from across the political spectrum can agree that we don’t want our cable and phone companies controlling what we can see and do on the Internet, or killing off startups to solidify the monopoly power of Big Tech giants. We’ve been saying it for years and we’ll say it again: all you telecom lobbyists are bound to lose. Now we’re one step closer to net neutrality being the law of the land. The Biden administration should act quickly to appoint a net neutrality champion (with no ties to the telecom industry) to the FCC, and Congress should pay attention to what happened in California, and ensure that any future legislative protections are at least as good as California’s law–– rock solid, with no loopholes for devious ISPs to abuse."

Reactions to Court Ruling on California Net Neutrality Law California Net Neutrality Law Clears Major Hurdle (Free Press) OTI Hails Court Victory for Net Neutrality in California Net neutrality law to take effect in California after judge deals blow to telecom industry (Washington Post) California Judge Allows State's Net Neutrality Law to Go Into Effect (Hollywood Reporter) California Attorney General Becerra Announces Critical Net Neutrality Win California can enforce net neutrality law, judge rules in loss for ISPs (ars technica) Public Knowledge Celebrates Net Neutrality Victory in California All you telecom lobbyists bound to lose: net neutrality activists deal ISPs a crushing defeat in California (Fight for the Futur