California's net-neutrality rules clear major hurdle as Biden's DOJ abandons its efforts to block them

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California's net-neutrality rules clear major hurdle as Biden's DOJ abandons its efforts to block them
Jaap Arriens/Getty Images
  • The DOJ dropped its legal challenge to California's net-neutrality rules on Monday.
  • California lawmakers passed the rules in 2018 after Trump's FCC overturned Obama-era rules.
  • This is a reversal from the Trump administration's fight against popular net-neutrality policies.

The Department of Justice has dropped its legal challenge to California's net-neutrality rules, the agency said in a court filing on Monday.

The move clears a major hurdle that had prevented the state's rules from going into effect, and represents a significant departure from the Trump administration's approach to internet policy.

After the Trump-led Federal Communications Commission voted in 2017 to repeal widely popular Obama-era net-neutrality protections at the federal level, California lawmakers passed a law the following year that aimed to restore some of those protections within its own borders.

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But the Trump administration challenged California's rules, as did internet providers including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Charter Communications (their legal challenge is pending, and a hearing is scheduled for February 23).

Read more: Everything you need to know about California's tough net neutrality bill

The Biden administration's decision to abandon the fight against net neutrality, which comes on the heels of President Joe Biden's nomination of acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel, signals it may take a tougher approach to companies that provide Americans with internet access.

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"I am pleased that the Department of Justice has withdrawn this lawsuit," Rosenworcel said in a press release.

"When the FCC, over my objection, rolled back its net-neutrality policies, states like California sought to fill the void with their own laws. By taking this step, Washington is listening to the American people, who overwhelmingly support an open internet, and is charting a course to once again make net neutrality the law of the land," she said.

Public opinion polls have consistently shown that the overwhelming majority of Americans - including both Republicans and Democrats - support net neutrality, a policy that prevents internet providers like AT&T and Comcast from "throttling" customers' internet speeds or forcing certain websites to pay more for "fast lanes."

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In addition to fighting net neutrality, the Trump administration mostly deregulated the industry. Under former FCC chair Ajit Pai's leadership, the agency faced criticism for being overly friendly toward the companies under its purview, doing little to improve Americans' internet speeds or ability to access the internet in the first place.

Despite industry arguments that deregulation promotes innovation and cost savings that benefit consumers, the US recently fell out of the top 10 countries for internet speeds globally, according to a report from DecisionData.org, and Americans still pay far more for that service.

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