Net neutrality returns to California, in law and in court

12 August 2020 by Steve Blum
, , ,

Zero rating destroys internet

Once again, network neutrality is law of the land in California, although there’s not much practical effect yet. Two years ago, the California legislature passed and governor Jerry Brown signed senate bill 822, authored by Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco). It bans blocking, throttling and paid prioritisation of Internet traffic on the basis of content, including specifically zero rating in-house content, as AT&T and other wireless carriers do.

The Trump administration and lobbying fronts for major telecoms companies immediately filed a challenge in a Sacramento federal court. California attorney general Xavier Becerra agreed to put the law on hold until appellate challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2017 repeal of net neutrality rules were resolved.

That’s a done deal now. A federal appeals court ruled last year that the FCC’s action was mostly correct. Among the exceptions was the bit of the net neutrality repeal order that banned states from taking action. The FCC is scrambling to plug that loophole, and other federal laws may end up having the same effect anyway, but the odds of SB 822 surviving are better than they were.

The net neutrality advocates behind the appeal asked the court to reconsider, which it declined to do. They then pondered whether to take it the to federal supreme court, eventually deciding not to do so last month.

The final thirty day waiting period expired last week. As it did, the Trump administration and the lobbyists and lawyers for cable, telcos and wireless carriers went back to Sacramento and renewed their pleas to block California’s law, which Becerra, in theory, should now be enforcing.

Becerra hasn’t revealed any plans he might have. He’s found the time to issue a press release on migratory birds, but so far not a word about net neutrality. It would make sense for him to wait until the judge hearing the challenge to SB 822 decides whether to put it on ice while the case grinds on. It might also make sense – to Becerra, at least – to hold off antagonising the big telecoms companies that have been so generous to him in the past.