Cable giants, ISPs, telcos end legal fight against California's net neutrality law

If you can't beat the Golden State, try again at the federal level

California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Wednesday welcomed the decision by a group of telecom and cable industry associations to abandon their legal challenge of the US state's net neutrality law SB822.

"My office has fought for years to ensure that internet service providers can't interfere with or limit what Californians do online," said Bonta in a statement. "Now the case is finally over.

"Following multiple defeats in court, internet service providers have abandoned this effort to block enforcement of California's net neutrality law. With this victory, we’ve secured a free and open internet for California's 40 million residents once and for all."

The state law prohibits ISPs from various self-serving practices, including:

  • Intentionally blocking lawful content, slowing or speeding traffic, or otherwise interfering with access to lawful content on the basis of source, destination, internet content, application, or service, or use of a non-harmful device.
  • Engaging in third-party paid prioritization.
  • Selectively zero-rating some internet content, applications, services, or devices or zero-rating in exchange for consideration or payment.
  • Engaging in practices that have the purpose of evading net neutrality requirements.
  • Failing to publicly disclose accurate information about the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband internet access services to enable consumers to make informed choices about those services.
  • Requiring consideration from edge providers, monetary or otherwise, for access to an ISP’s end users.

In December 2017, then Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai tossed out the 2015 net neutrality rules put in place during the Obama administration, freeing broadband providers to block, throttle, and prioritize internet traffic, among other things – all of which were disallowed under the 2015 rules.

On September 30, 2018, then California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 822 (SB822), which more or less restored those rules. That same day, the Justice Department under the Trump administration challenged the law, as subsequently did the broadband companies benefiting from what Pai at the time referred to as a "light-touch approach."

The Justice Department, under the Biden administration, ended its opposition to California's net neutrality law back in February, 2021.

The industry plaintiffs continued fighting SB822 in court but faced a setback in January, 2022, when the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to block the law's enforcement as litigation progressed.

Now those groups – ACA Connects (America’s Communications Association), CTIA (The Wireless Association), NCTA (The Internet & Television Association), and USTelecom (The Broadband Association) – have withdrawn too. The trade associations, with the agreement of Bonta, filed a joint stipulation of dismissal without prejudice [PDF], which ends the telco legal challenge but allows the claim to be refiled at some later date.

In a statement emailed to The Register, the trade association plaintiffs said, "Broadband providers are united in support of an open internet and committed to delivering the content and services consumers demand as they’ve continued to demonstrate through their marketplace practices. A common framework protecting the open internet is the right path forward for consumers, innovation, and economic growth. We commit to work with Congress and the FCC to develop a federal approach that resolves these important issues."

While that federal approach gets hammered out, the telecom industry is keeping busy by lobbying to derail the nomination of Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission. Sohn, tapped to become the fifth of five FCC commissioners and to give Democrats a 3-2 edge in terms of FCC voting, has advocated for changes [PDF] that would cost the telecom industry money, like an affordable, national fixed broadband option for about $10 per month, mandatory price transparency, promoting competition, and funding rural broadband expansion. ®

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