The US state of California has agreed to put its controversial net neutrality law on hold pending a legal challenge against it from the federal government.
Cali governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 822 (SB-822) into law on the last day of September – the last day he was able to before leaving office.
The federal government was expecting it, and in less than an hour, on a Sunday, the US Department of Justice filed suit against it, claiming that it is "preempted by federal law and therefore violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution."
Fast forward a month, and California's Attorney General Xavier Becerra has agreed to hold off implementing the open-internet law until that challenge is resolved. The rules were due to take effect on January 1, though oral arguments in the federal appeals court are set for February 1.
Becerra has not put out a statement explaining his decision, as of time of writing, though postponement is quite possibly the responsible thing to do rather than cause legal turbulence on an already highly contentious issue.
The lead author of the bill, State Senator Scott Weiner, a Democrat from San Francisco, acknowledged and supported the move. "I very much want to see California’s net neutrality law go into effect immediately, in order to protect access to the internet," he said in statement. "Yet, I also understand and support the Attorney General’s rationale for allowing the DC Circuit appeal to be resolved before we move forward to defend our net neutrality law in court."
Notably less humble was the man indirectly responsible for the law: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) boss Ajit Pai.
It was Pai who pushed through the revocation of existing net neutrality rules drawn up by his predecessor – rules that the California legislation reimposes; at least in the state.
"I am pleased that California has agreed not to enforce its onerous Internet regulations," he kicked off with, before claiming that the decision reflected the fact that California knows it is going to lose.
"This substantial concession reflects the strength of the case made by the United States earlier this month. It also demonstrates, contrary to the claims of the law’s supporters, that there is no urgent problem that these regulations are needed to address."
That, as Pai knows well, is nonsense, though he was already on a roll: "Indeed, California’s agreement not to enforce these regulations will allow Californians to continue to enjoy free-data plans that have proven to be popular among consumers."
And he then reiterated the core position of the federal challenge – that internet access is an "interstate information service," and therefore federal rules supersede any state laws.
"A patchwork of state laws only introduces uncertainty in the broadband marketplace that will slow investment and deployment of infrastructure and hurt consumers," he continued. "I am confident that the FCC’s authority to preempt such state laws will be upheld, along with our proven market-based framework for protecting Internet openness, investment, and innovation nationwide."
And the other lawsuits
This is, of course, far from the only legal challenge to both California's rules and to the FCC's decision to get rid of its own previous rules.
California is also being sued by a coalition of pretty much every major cable company. And the FCC is being sued by a coalition of internet companies and free internet advocates.
But postponements are in fashion because the telcos have decided they will delay their anti-California lawsuit while internet organizations lawsuit against the FCC revocation is being heard.
If you ever wondered what the breaking point is for telecoms lawyers, we've finally found it. It's eight years and a counter-counter-counter-counter suit. ®