Sessions, feds sue to stop California bid for net neutrality
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Courthouse News) – Wasting little time after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed landmark internet protections for consumers, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Sunday night sued to stop hours-old legislation being called the strongest net neutrality laws in the nation.
The Trump administration says the state legislation, which prevents providers such as Verizon and AT&T from intentionally slowing or “throttling” internet access, is the latest attempt by the Golden State to interfere and frustrate federal deregulation policies. Sessions wants a federal judge in Sacramento to nix the law before it takes effect in 2019, claiming California is overstepping boundaries in trying to regulate interstate commerce.
“Once again the California Legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy,” Sessions said in a statement. “The Justice Department should not have to spend valuable time and resources to file this suit today, but we have a duty to defend the prerogatives of the federal government and protect our constitutional order.”
Brown inked Senate Bill 822 late Sunday, just hours before a legislative deadline. The proposal by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, replaces and enhances Obama-era net neutrality protections stashed by the Trump administration this year. California is the fourth state to pass some form of net neutrality framework in wake of the Federal Communication Commission’s repeal.
Backers have praised the Golden State for attempting to cement net neutrality rules that are stronger than the eliminated federal standards. Supporters include the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and a variety of labor unions.
The measure bans providers from offering “fast lanes” or better access in exchange for payment and limits “free-data plans” where consumers are allowed to access certain content without having the data counted toward their monthly limit.
Wiener says his bill prevents internet service providers – which lobbied heavily against SB 822 – from “picking winners and losers” and demands equal internet access.
“Net neutrality, at its core, is the basic notion that we each get to decide where we go on the internet, as opposed to having that decision made for us by internet service providers. It’s also about ensuring a level playing field for ideas and for businesses trying to compete,” Wiener said in a statement after the bill was signed.
The federal government was closely watching the California bill as less than two hours after Brown signed SB 822 it filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of California. The case was assigned to District John Mendez, a George W. Bush appointee who is also handling the Trump administration’s lawsuit against several California immigration laws. The lawsuit names the state, Gov. Brown and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
Sessions says California’s net neutrality act is pre-empted by federal law and violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and seeks both preliminary and permanent injunctions.
“SB 822 conflicts with the 2018 order’s affirmative federal ‘deregulatory policy’ and ‘deregulatory approach’ to internet regulation,” the 12-page complaint states.
Led by USTelecom, which represents Verizon and other providers, critics have painted SB 822 as an overreach that will create an additional web of regulations for the industry to navigate.
“Rather than 50 states stepping in with their own conflicting open internet solutions, we need Congress to step up with a national framework for the whole internet ecosystem and resolve this issue once and for all,” USTelecom president Jonathan Spalter said of SB 822.
In an email, Becerra’s office said it remains “deeply committed to protecting freedom of expression, innovation and fairness” but didn’t comment directly on the feds’ lawsuit.
The lawsuit is the latest development in the raging fight over net neutrality between the feds and nearly two dozen states. A group of states including California and New York are challenging the FCC’s contentious order in the D.C. Circuit.