California's net neutrality law allowed to take effect after judge's ruling

Broadband trade groups sued to block the law, which is considered stricter than previous federal rules.

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California's net neutrality law cleared to take effect.

James Martin/CNET

California's net neutrality law will soon be allowed to go into effect after a federal judge said Tuesday he won't block the law, which is designed to safeguard the open internet. The state law, considered stricter than federal rules adopted during the Obama administration, could set the baseline for future federal rules. 

California adopted the new rules in 2018 after a Republican-led FCC in 2017 repealed federal rules that had been established under President Barack Obama. The new rules were prevented from taking effect when the broadband industry's four main lobbying groups filed a lawsuit in federal court against the state of California to block its new law.

The four trade groups that filed the lawsuit -- the American Cable Association, CTIA, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and USTelecom -- said Tuesday they "will review the court's opinion before deciding on next steps.

"A state-by-state approach to Internet regulation will confuse consumers and deter innovation, just as the importance of broadband for all has never been more apparent," they said in a joint statement. "We agree with the Court that a piecemeal approach is untenable and that Congress should codify rules for an open internet."

California State Sen. Scott Wiener, who authored the original bill, celebrated the ruling on Twitter as a "major win for net neutrality."

The US Department of Justice under former President Donald Trump also filed a legal challenge against the state law, but that lawsuit was formally dismissed by the department in early February.

Net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally, regardless of whether you're checking Facebook, posting pictures to Instagram or streaming movies from Netflix or Amazon. It also means companies such as AT&T, which bought Time Warner, or Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, can't favor their own content over that of a competitor.

Federal net neutrality rules adopted by the FCC during the Obama administration prevented broadband providers from blocking or slowing access to the internet or charging for faster access. But those rules were repealed by the FCC under the Trump administration in 2018.

In its rollback, the FCC included a provision in its order that pre-empted states from creating their own regulations. The DOJ and the broadband industry argue it would be too complicated for internet service providers to follow different net neutrality rules in 50 states.

California's stricter 2018 law, which goes beyond the Obama-era rules, outlaws so-called zero-rating offers, which allow carriers to exempt certain services from counting against a user's data cap. Additionally, the California law applies the net neutrality rules to so-called interconnection deals between network operators. Interconnection happens when two network operators hand off traffic to each other.

CNET's Marguerite Reardon contributed to this report.