A federal judge in California ruled on Tuesday that a first-in-the-nation net neutrality law passed in the state in 2018 can now be enforced, signalling a huge victory for proponents of a more egalitarian internet and paving the way for other states to begin introducing open internet rules of their own.
After the Trump administration moved to eliminate net neutrality protections nationally back in 2018, California lawmakers had sought to take matters into their own hands by crafting legislation designed to prevent internet service providers from blocking or slowing down Web traffic.
Not long after it was approved, the digital protections law was met with legal opposition from telecoms giants including AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and others, as well as from the Trump-era Justice Department, which sued to block the law hours after it first went into effect.
But on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge John Mendez ruled that the law can proceed to enforcement, and also dismissed a pending injunction from a telecom association whose members included AT&T, Verizon, and Charter.
“The judge found that the law is on a solid legal foundation and that the ISPs trying to overturn it are not likely to prevail,” Barbara van Schewick, a law professor at Stanford University who wrote one of the legal briefs in support of the law, told the Washington Post.
“The judge found, as I’ve long argued, that an agency that says it has no power to regulate, it has no power to tell others they can’t regulate,” she said.
The news comes weeks after the Justice Department — under a net neutrality-friendly Biden administration — announced that it was dropping its Trump-era lawsuit against California’s proposed protections.
The four trade groups involved in the efforts to overturn the law — the American Cable Association, CTIA, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and USTelecom — said on Tuesday that they “will review the court’s opinion before deciding on next steps,” indicating the potential for an appeal process that will once again delay California from enforcing the law.
“A state-by-state approach to Internet regulation will confuse consumers and deter innovation, just as the importance of broadband for all has never been more apparent,” the groups said in a joint statement. “We agree with the Court that a piecemeal approach is untenable and that Congress should codify rules for an open Internet.”