US Justice Department Sues California Over Its 'Extreme And Illegal' Net Neutrality Laws

The debate surrounding net neutrality is going to court.The United States Justice Department is suing the state of California over their new net neutrality law. The lawsuit will decide whether federal or state governments can enact laws that affect national telecommunication companies. 
The suit was filed on Sunday with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill that prevents companies like Verizon and AT&T from slowing or blocking Internet traffic. Companies are also unable to allow unlimited access to certain sites while blocking others. The bill is intended to protect consumers and undo the laws enacted last year by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra remarked that the state “will not allow a handful of power brokers to dictate sources for information or the speed at which websites load. We remain deeply committed to protecting freedom of expression, innovation and fairness.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions countered Becerra’ argument and insisted that, “States do not regulate interstate commerce-- the federal government does.”

California is not the first state to establish its own separate net neutrality laws. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, nearly one hundred bills and resolutions have been introduced throughout the United States. The governors of Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana, Rhode Island, and Vermont have signed executive orders while Oregon and Washington have enacted legislation. However, most of these laws do not go against FCC regulations. California is one of the first states to truly provoke the FCC. It is also expected that California will be sued by telecommunications companies thanks to their new law.

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California’s net neutrality law may have been inspired by the problems they encountered during their horrific wildfires this summer. Verizon Wireless was caught throttling data services for the Santa Clara County Fire Department during the wildfires. Fire Chief Anthony Bowden commented that the throttling had a “significant impact” on how quickly his department was able to respond to emergencies. Verizon acknowledged the throttling, but insisted that the fire department switch to a more expensive data plan. The company claimed that their mistake was not related to net neutrality, but those affected by the fire begged to differ.

California, with a population of nearly 38 million, is the most populous state of the nation. The state’s laws and court battles often set a precedent for the rest of the country. The lawsuit will determine whether or not broadband internet is an interstate commodity and whether the state or federal government should regulate it.