(Adds reaction from California, background)
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, May 4 (Reuters) – The U.S. broadband industry ended late on Wednesday its legal challenge to California’s landmark net neutrality law, which seeks to protect the open internet.
A group of industry associations that represents major internet providers, such as AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications, Comcast Corp and others, dismissed their 2018 legal challenge.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had last month refused to reconsider a ruling upholding the 2018 state law, which bars internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic or offering paid fast lanes.
“Following multiple defeats in court, internet service providers have abandoned this effort to block enforcement of California’s net neutrality law,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said Wednesday.
The industry associations that had challenged the law said in a joint statement that “broadband providers are united in support of an open internet.” They committed themselves to working with Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to develop a federal approach for resolving the issues.
In January, the appeals court ruled 3-0 that a 2017 decision by the FCC to reverse federal internet protections could not bar state action, rejecting the industry challenge.
Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a senior counselor at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society said, “the end of this litigation is a boon for free speech, competition and innovation on the internet.”
The appeals court said that, since the FCC had reclassified internet services in 2017 as more lightly regulated information services, the commission “no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services.”
A lower court judge refused to block California’s net neutrality law from taking effect after the Justice Department withdrew its separate legal challenge to California’s state law in February 2021 – just days after Joe Biden took office.
The FCC under former President Barack Obama adopted net neutrality rules in 2015. They were overturned in 2017 by the FCC under then President Donald Trump. California’s legislature responded by adopting a state law requiring net neutrality in August 2018.
The FCC remains divided 2-2, because Joe Biden’s nominee for the final commission seat, Gigi Sohn, has not been approved.
Supporters of net neutrality rules argue the protections ensure a free and open internet. Broadband groups contend the rules’ legal basis from the pre-internet era is outdated and discourages investment. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Bradley Perrett)