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Feds sue California over net neutrality law

The Justice Department says states can't regulate the internet

Photo (c) BackyardProduction - Getty Images
The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the state of California, charging that its newly enacted net neutrality law places “unlawful burdens” on the federal government's efforts to deregulate the internet.

The suit was filed within hours of California Gov. Jerry Brown signing the net neutrality bill into law.

California’s net neutrality law cleared both houses of the legislature by wide margins. The law reimposes the standard enacted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the Obama administration in 2015. It requires all internet service providers to treat all internet traffic the same.

For example, under the previous national policy, overturned by the Trump administration last December, networks could not charge more to companies offering video streaming services. They also could not slow down a service like Netflix while providing faster speeds to their own streaming services.

California State Senator Scott Wiener spearheaded the drive to reimpose net neutrality in the state and said the final product constituted “the strongest net neutrality standards in the nation."

The Justice Department suit takes a different view, saying the California law attempts to regulate the internet, which is now contrary to federal law.

FCC supports the suit

“I’m pleased the Department of Justice has filed this suit,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who led FCC efforts to overturn the federal net neutrality policy. “The Internet is inherently an interstate information service. As such, only the federal government can set policy in this area. And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently reaffirmed that state regulation of information services is preempted by federal law.”

Pai makes the claim that net neutrality, as envisioned by the California law, hurts consumers. He says that under the law, large ISPs like Verizon and AT&T would be prohibited from offering some free data plans he says allow consumers to stream video and music, exempt from any data limits.

“They have proven enormously popular in the marketplace, especially among lower-income Americans,” Pai said. “But notwithstanding the consumer benefits, this state law bans them.”

But supporters of net neutrality argue they are the ones defending a free and open internet. Without it, they say corporations will decide what you can see online and how fast you can see it.

The argument probably won't be settled anytime soon, and when it is it will probably be the Supreme Court that settles it.

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