Justice Department Files Net Neutrality Lawsuit Against the State of California
The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against the state of California alleging that Senate Bill 822, an Internet regulation bill signed into law earlier today by Governor Jerry Brown, unlawfully imposes burdens on the Federal Government’s deregulatory approach to the Internet, announced Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, Assistant Attorney General Joseph H. Hunt for the Justice Department’s Civil Division, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai.
In 1996, a bipartisan Congress decided that the Internet should remain “unfettered by Federal or State regulation.” Since 2002, the FCC has accordingly classified broadband Internet access as an “information service” that is exempt from public-utility regulations. The FCC briefly departed from this classification in a 2015 Order, which imposed restrictions on the freedom of the Internet. In 2018, the FCC returned to its prior light-touch framework, ensuring that Internet access services are free and guided by a uniform set of federal rules, rather than by a patchwork of state and local regulations. The United States concluded that California, through Senate Bill 822, is attempting to subvert the Federal Government’s deregulatory approach by imposing burdensome state regulations on the free Internet, which is unlawful and anti-consumer.
In filing the complaint, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued the following statement:
“Under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce—the federal government does. Once again the California legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy. The Justice Department should not have to spend valuable time and resources to file this suit today, but we have a duty to defend the prerogatives of the federal government and protect our Constitutional order. We will do so with vigor. We are confident that we will prevail in this case—because the facts are on our side.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued the following statement:
“I’m pleased the Department of Justice has filed this suit. The Internet is inherently an interstate information service. As such, only the federal government can set policy in this area. And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently reaffirmed that state regulation of information services is preempted by federal law.
“Not only is California’s Internet regulation law illegal, it also hurts consumers. The law prohibits many free-data plans, which allow consumers to stream video, music, and the like exempt from any data limits. They have proven enormously popular in the marketplace, especially among lower-income Americans. But notwithstanding the consumer benefits, this state law bans them.
“The Internet is free and open today, and it will continue to be under the light-touch protections of the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Department of Justice to ensure the Internet remains ‘unfettered by Federal or State regulation,’ as federal law requires, and the domain of engineers, entrepreneurs, and technologists, not lawyers and bureaucrats.”