California Urges Judge To Leave Net Neutrality Law In Place

California is asking a federal judge to reject broadband providers' request to block the state's net neutrality law.

“The central importance of free and open Internet access to modern life has never been more apparent than during the current COVID-19 public health crisis,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra argues in papers filed Thursday with U.S. District Court Judge John Mendez in Sacramento.

“An order barring the enforcement of net neutrality protections would be particularly harmful at this time,” Becerra adds.

He is responding to a lawsuit by broadband industry trade organizations, which are seeking an injunction prohibiting enforcement of California's open internet law (SB 822).

The measure, passed in 2018, 's 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.

The Obama-era Federal Communications Commission passed similar rules in 2015, but the current Republican-dominated FCC repealed the regulations in 2018. 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has argued that the prior rules were “heavy handed.”

But net neutrality proponents 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.

When the FCC repealed the Obama-era rules, the agency also attempted to prevent states from imposing net neutrality requirements on broadband providers. Despite the FCC's move, former 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 broadband industry groups -- the American Cable Association, CTIA -- The Wireless Association, NCTA -- The Internet & Television Association and USTelecom -- The Broadband Association-- also sued.

The case was paused 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.

Last month, the broadband groups re-started the litigation by amending their complaint and renewing their request for an injunction to block the law.

Becerra counters that the broadband providers haven't shown they're entitled to an injunction, in part because the providers haven't shown that the law will cause them “irreparable” injuries.

“The claim of irreparable harm is belied by the lack of any harm during the period in which the federal net neutrality protections were in effect nationwide from 2015-2018,” Becerra argues.

The Attorney General adds that some providers, including Comcast, publicly said the former rules didn't disrupt their businesses.

Becerra also argues the “balance of equities” weighs in favor of allowing the state to enforce the law.

“Without SB 822, California businesses and consumers will be at the mercy of the large [broadband] providers, who will no longer be prohibited from allowing congestion at interconnection points, or entering into interconnection agreements as a means of engaging in the other practices prohibited by SB 822, such as blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization,” he writes.

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