Four American interest groups, which include providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, are suing the state of California over new state legislation that introduces a strict form of net neutrality.
In the indictment, the four lobby groups argue that California’s new net neutrality legislation is a “classic case of unconstitutional state regulation.” The new rules will in principle come into effect on 1 January 2019, but the interest groups want the judge to stop this by suspending the rules.
They base this, among other things, on the Restoring Internet Freedom Order of the Federal Communications Commission. These are federal rules and in principle take precedence over state rules when it comes to the same subject. The FCC is the Republican-majority US telecommunications regulator; the body abolished net neutrality in the US on June 11.
This isn’t California’s first net neutrality case. The US Department of Justice also recently sued the state for somewhat similar reasons. Washington believes California has no power to regulate the internet. Only the federal government should be allowed to pursue policy on this subject, as it is an interstate information service.
The question of whether regulation from a body like the FCC can override state laws is part of another ongoing case in which prosecutors from some 12 different states have sued the FCC. In the current case brought by the four interest groups, the judge will have to rule on whether California can introduce the new net neutrality rules while the prosecutors’ case is still pending.
In California, net neutrality rules require providers in the state to treat internet traffic equally. Zero-rating is also prohibited, which means that a provider does not deduct the use of mobile data for certain services from the bundle and therefore does not charge it. In addition, providers are not allowed to charge companies for access to their customers.
There are a total of about 30 states that have introduced such, often slightly less strict, own net neutrality rules. In most cases they have implemented this without creating a full-fledged state new law for it; that’s probably why California specifically is now being sued.