Immediately after California passed a law reinstating open internet regulations in the state, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit. Although the suit only targets California, it could provide a test case for Washington, Oregon, and Vermont, which have enacted their own net neutrality laws.
DOJ claims California’s law “unlawfully imposes burdens on the Federal Government’s deregulatory approach to the Internet.” In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality, a nickname for Obama-era regulations that require internet providers to treat all content the same without slowing or speeding up service. The repeal that was published in the federal register preempts states from passing their own net neutrality laws.
Despite that provision, Washington became the first state in the country to pass a law requiring internet providers in the state to uphold net neutrality principles. Oregon and Vermont followed suit and Sunday California passed its own law.
Washington Rep. Drew Hansen sponsored the state bill enacted in February. In an interview with GeekWire Monday, he said the FCC is overreaching in its effort to preempt state consumer protection authority.
“The federal government doesn’t have the power to preempt state laws just because it says so,” Hansen said. “Just like I don’t have the power to manifest unicorns on the Washington state capitol lawn just because I say so. They need to have some statute or constitutional provision that grants them preemption authority and we just disagree that they can take a broad view.”
The outcome of the California lawsuit isn’t likely to impact other state laws directly, but it will set a precedent that could be applied in other cases.
“The Internet is inherently an interstate information service,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement tied to the DOJ lawsuit. “As such, only the federal government can set policy in this area.”
Hansen disagrees. As far as he’s concerned, “states have broad consumer protection authority as it relates to the internet as well as many other areas of economic activity.”
“It’s not clear to me why the states can’t exercise their consumer protection authority to uphold the free and open internet principles that have served the internet so well,” he added.