U.S. Court of Appeals Denies ISPs' Attempt to Block California’s Landmark Net Neutrality Law
SAN FRANCISCO — On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a California federal district court’s order denying a phone-and-cable-industry effort to prohibit enforcement of the state’s landmark Net Neutrality law.
The California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act passed the Sacramento legislature and was signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018. Industry groups representing companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon sought to prevent California from implementing the law, which the state put in place to fill the void left by the Trump FCC’s 2017 repeal of federal open-internet rules.
The district court concluded that California was within its rights to step into the vacuum created by the Trump FCC ruling and to pass a law that prevents internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against websites, apps and content chosen by internet users in California. In 2020 and 2021, Free Press joined Access Now, Mozilla, New America’s Open Technology Institute and Public Knowledge to file amicus briefs at the district-court and appellate-court levels in defense of California’s legislation.
Lawyers representing ISPs had made meritless claims that the Trump FCC’s decision preempted state laws in this field, preventing states from stepping in to protect internet users exposed by the 2017 federal repeal. The Trump FCC repeal also ditched the agency’s Title II authority to treat broadband as an essential telecommunications service, jeopardizing its ability to make broadband more affordable, ubiquitous and competitive.
Free Press Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood said:
“More than three years ago, California passed a strong and bipartisan Net Neutrality bill restoring vital nondiscrimination protections that the Trump administration had jettisoned on the federal stage. Now the Ninth Circuit has affirmed the state’s ability to move forward with this law. The judges dismissed a bevy of pointless phone-and cable-company arguments that have now been rejected by courts on both coasts.
“This decision is a huge step forward, but the California law had an impact even before it cleared this latest court hurdle. Industry lobbyists and other Net Neutrality opponents have argued, loudly but cynically, that the repeal of the FCC’s rules had no impact. But the passage of this strong state law meant ISPs still had to respect open-internet principles even before this latest victory, because they knew their stall tactics in the Ninth Circuit were likely to fail, as they now have twice.
“But while today’s ruling is great news, the job isn’t done. This win is significant because it offers protections to people in our most populous state and drives the national conversation forward. Yet tremendous as it is, we still need the Biden FCC to reclaim its authority not just for nationwide open-internet rules, but for policies promoting affordable, resilient, just and reasonable internet connections for everyone.
“That starts with the U.S. Senate moving quickly to confirm Gigi Sohn as the FCC’s fifth commissioner so the agency can begin to restore these essential safeguards. After the Commerce Committee vote on her nomination next Wednesday, we need swift action on the floor to put the FCC fully back to work.”