DOJ Drops Net Neutrality Suit Against California

On Monday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) withdrew from a lawsuit initiated against California over the state’s 2018 net neutrality law, deemed the strongest in the country. The DOJ filed a notice of voluntary dismissal with the Eastern District of California court overseeing the case yesterday, ending the Trump Administration lawsuit which numerous telecommunications stakeholders had joined as amici curiae.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rolled back net neutrality policies during the Trump Administration. In response, California enacted its own law, SB 822, to protect access to an open internet. The federal government took issue with California’s perceived circumvention, and filed suit just a few hours after the bill became law.

The lawsuit was paused pending the resolution of Mozilla v. FCC. In that case, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the part of the FCC’s 2018 “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” (RIF) that preempted state net neutrality laws. 

According to a Jan. 12 letter sent by members of Congress to Attorney General-designate Merrick B. Garland, “[t]he arguments of the Trump DOJ and telecommunications associations in U.S. v. California extend further than even the FCC’s RIF and have implications on the ability of California and other states to regulate many communications and technology policy issues.” In turn, the 13 congressional signatories asked Garland to withdraw the United States from the lawsuit shortly after the presidential inauguration.

Others too, expressed satisfaction with the government’s decision. Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel remarked that “[w]hen the FCC, over my objection, rolled back its net neutrality policies, states like California sought to fill the void with their own laws. 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.”