The Chamber of Commerce is backing broadband providers and the U.S. Department of Justice in their attempt to block California's broad net neutrality law.
“Because there is no principled way to limit regulation of the Internet to a single state ... California’s new regulatory regime raises more questions than it answers,” the Chamber of Commerce and several other business groups write in a friend-of-the-court brief filed this week with U.S. District Court Judge John A. Mendez in Sacramento.
The business organizations are urging Mendez to issue an injunction that would prevent the state from enforcing its open internet law.
California's law (SB 822) prohibits broadband providers from blocking or throttling traffic, charging higher fees for fast-lane service, and from exempting their own video streams from consumers' data caps.
Those provisions largely mirror rules passed by the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission, but repealed in 2018 by the current Republican-led agency. When the FCC repealed the Obama-era rules, the agency also attempted to prevent states from imposing net neutrality requirements on broadband providers.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who shepherded the repeal, says the prior rules were “heavy handed,” and claimed that they depressed investment.
But net neutrality advocates say the rules were necessary to prevent broadband providers from limiting consumers' ability to access streaming video, search engines and other online services and content.
Some groups that examined the carriers' stock reports dispute Pai's contention that the rules depressed investment. The pro-neutrality advocacy group Free Press, which examined stock reports, said investment by 13 major broadband providers increased in the two years after the Obama-era FCC voted in favor of the regulations.
Despite the FCC's attempted ban on state laws, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California measure in late September of 2018.
Within an hour, the Department of Justice sued to block the law from taking effect.
Several days later, the four major broadband industry groups -- the American Cable Association, CTIA -- The Wireless Association, NCTA -- The Internet & Television Association and USTelecom -- The Broadband Association-- also sued.
The lawsuit was stayed while the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals considered a challenge to the FCC's repeal of the Obama-era regulations. Last year, that court partially upheld the decision to revoke the regulations, but vacated the part of the FCC's order that would have prevented states from passing or enforcing their own broadband laws.
Earlier this month, the broadband groups re-started the litigation by amending their complaint and renewing their request to block the law.
The Chamber of Commerce, which is siding with the carriers, argues it would be “profoundly inequitable to force internet providers to come into near-immediate compliance” with rules the FCC found were “excessively burdensome and unnecessary.”
“That is doubly true when the challenged rules cannot in any meaningful way be limited to California,” the group adds. “The most prudent way forward is to freeze the status quo.”