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California net neutrality law put on hold

The state has delayed its implementation of the law pending the outcome of a lawsuit

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The January 1, 2019 start date for California's net neutrality law has been put on hold. The state has agreed to delay its implementation until a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is settled.

The law, passed by the California legislature in September, requires internet service providers (ISP) to abide by rules codified by the FCC during the Obama administration. Those rules required all internet traffic to be treated the same.

The FCC under the Trump administration overturned those rules last December, essentially allowing providers to favor their own content over the content of their competitors. California and a handful of other states took steps to restore net neutrality within their borders, meaning large ISPs like Comcast and Verizon would have to observe net neutrality or lose their customers in those states.

Multiple lawsuits

The whole issue has resulted in multiple lawsuits. The Justice Department is suing to block states from implementing their own net neutrality laws, arguing states lack the authority to countermand federal policy.

But the lawsuit delaying California's net neutrality law is one filed by net neutrality supporters. Technology companies and attorneys general from 22 states are suing the FCC, arguing the agency lacked the authority when it voted to overturn net neutrality.

The crux of their argument is this: internet traffic travels over a "common carrier," and under law, a common carrier must treat all traffic the same. The FCC counters that, today, broadband traffic travels over networks built by the ISPs. It is an argument that has largely broken down along partisan lines, with Democrats favoring net neutrality and Republicans opposing it.

No firm timetable

The lawsuit challenging the FCC is now in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC but there is no firm timetable for rendering a decision. A ruling against the FCC would eliminate the need for the California law but the Trump administration could always appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, delaying the law even more.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says every step his office is taking has one aim -- the restoration of net neutrality in California.

California state Senator Scott Wiener, who authored the legislation, expresses confidence the court will uphold the state's right to establish net neutrality within its borders, calling the policy vital to protecting access to the internet.

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