In a signal of things to come from the Biden administration, the Justice Department on Monday dropped out of a lawsuit that seeks to block California from enacting its own net neutrality law.
The acting chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, hailed the decision and said that the FCC is now “charting a course” to restore net neutrality nationwide.
“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,” Rosenworcel said.
The FCC is currently deadlocked with two Republicans and two Democrats. Biden will have to appoint a third Democrat, subject to Senate confirmation, in order to reestablish net neutrality nationwide.
The Obama administration’s FCC first enacted net neutrality regulations in 2015. The rules forbade internet providers from establishing “fast lanes” for certain content, or blocking or “throttling” other content. The Trump administration reversed the decision, repealing the regulations in December 2017.
Former California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law — SB 822 — that enacted California’s own net neutrality standards in September 2018. The Trump Justice Department filed suit the same day, arguing that the law was preempted by the FCC’s regulation.
The law was originally set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2019, but has been on hold for more than two years pending the outcome of the case.
The DOJ’s motion for an injunction was scheduled to go before U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez in Sacramento on Feb. 23. On Jan. 15, the judge asked the DOJ to advise by Tuesday whether the Biden administration would proceed. The DOJ formally dropped out of the case on Monday.
The case will still proceed — and the law remains on hold — as several trade groups representing the cable industry also joined as plaintiffs. They include the American Cable Association, CTIA – The Wireless Association, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, and USTelecom – The Broadband Association.
Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, issued a statement praising the administration’s decision.
“We applaud the Biden administration for withdrawing the federal government’s challenge to California’s net neutrality law,” Becerra said. “This action affirms the importance of a free and open internet to maintain a competitive marketplace and a fair democracy. We will keep fighting in court to defend net neutrality for all Californians.”