U.S. Justice Department Sues California for Reimposing Strict Net Neutrality Protections

On Sunday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that will bring back strict net neutrality protections to users in the state, four months after net neutrality officially expired in the United States thanks to the FCC's vote to repeal the regulations last December (via USA Today).


Now that California has renewed net neutrality in the state, the United States Justice Department has filed a lawsuit in attempt to strike down the bill. In a statement, the Justice Department says that California's Senate Bill 822 "unlawfully imposes burdens on the Federal Government’s deregulatory approach to the Internet."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai also commented on the lawsuit:
Sessions: “Under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce—the federal government does. Once again the California legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy. The Justice Department should not have to spend valuable time and resources to file this suit today, but we have a duty to defend the prerogatives of the federal government and protect our Constitutional order. We will do so with vigor. We are confident that we will prevail in this case—because the facts are on our side.”

Pai: “I’m pleased the Department of Justice has filed this suit. The Internet is inherently an interstate information service. As such, only the federal government can set policy in this area. And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently reaffirmed that state regulation of information services is preempted by federal law.

“Not only is California’s Internet regulation law illegal, it also hurts consumers. The law prohibits many free-data plans, which allow consumers to stream video, music, and the like exempt from any data limits. They have proven enormously popular in the marketplace, especially among lower-income Americans. But notwithstanding the consumer benefits, this state law bans them."
California is not the first state to pass its own net neutrality bill, but none have yet been as strict. Under the law, California broadband providers will not be able to slow down or block any websites, charge higher fees to customers to receive faster internet speeds, and the law also limits some zero-rated data plans.

Without net neutrality regulations, internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T have the legal ability to throttle any traffic on their networks, and block access to sites and services completely, as long as they inform their customers of their actions. In essence, many have theorized that this could lead to ISPs bundling "packages" of internet sites and selling them like cable companies, as well as putting high-paying customers in "fast lanes" and everyone else in "slow lanes."

Net neutrality opponents, like Pai, say this will lead to "better, faster, cheaper internet access for consumers, and more competition." They also cite the return to an "open" and less regulated internet, seen prior to the 2015 induction of net neutrality.

Numerous technology companies have voiced support of net neutrality over the past year, including Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, and more. Apple last year stated that the net neutrality repeal could "fundamentally alter the internet as we know it," and if it passed it would be put in place to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation.

For California, a legal battle will now happen between the state and the Justice Department, with a few other individuals opposing California's law. This includes U.S. Telecom Association CEO Jonathan Spalter, who said, "Rather than 50 states stepping in with their own conflicting open internet solutions, we need Congress to step up with a national framework for the whole internet ecosystem and resolve this issue once and for all."

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Verizon Throttled California Fire Department’s Data Speeds During Wildfire Response

Verizon recently throttled the data used by a Santa Clara, California fire department that was in the midst of fighting wildfires, reports Ars Technica. Verizon's actions were outlined this week in an addendum to a brief filed by 22 state attorneys challenging the recent repeal of net neutrality rules.

According to Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden, the fire department paid Verizon for "unlimited" data, but its data speeds were heavily throttled while it was combating the still-ongoing Mendocino Complex Fire until the department shelled out more money for an upgraded unlimited plan.


Verizon's data throttling policies affected "OES 5262," a fire vehicle with a Verizon SIM card that is responsible for acting as a "command and control resource" for "the rapid deployment and organization of thousands of personnel and hundreds of fire engines, aircraft, and bulldozers." Data speeds were reduced to 1/200, interfering with the vehicle's ability to "function effectively."

Santa Clara Fire communicated with Verizon via email about the throttling and requested that it be "immediately lifted for public safety purposes," but Verizon staff demanded the fire department update to a new plan before service could be restored.
Verizon representatives confirmed the throttling, but, rather than restoring us to an essential data transfer speed, they indicated that County Fire would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost, and they would only remove throttling after we contacted the Department that handles billing and switched to the new data plan.
As Ars Technica points out, even when net neutrality rules were in effect, major carriers imposed throttling during times of network congestion. The fire department claims, however, that it was throttled at all times (not just at peak congestion) once the vehicle's 25GB data limit was exceeded.

Net neutrality rules also allowed for Internet users to file complaints for unjust or unreasonable prices and practices, but the complaint option has been eliminated, giving Santa Clara no options for contacting the FCC over Verizon's practices.

Bowden said that Verizon's throttling had a "significant impact" on the fire department's ability to provide emergency services. The Mendocino fire was also not the only time Verizon's throttling limited fire services, with other incidents occurring in December and June.

According to Bowden, the Santa Clara Fire Department believes that Verizon is going to continue to use catastrophic events to force public agencies into higher-cost data plans.
In light of our experience, County Fire believes it is likely that Verizon will continue to use the exigent nature of public safety emergencies and catastrophic events to coerce public agencies into higher cost plans ultimately paying significantly more for mission critical service-even if that means risking harm to public safety during negotiations.
After a long series of emails (PDF) with Verizon, the Santa Clara Fire Department was ultimately required to purchase a data plan that costs $99.99 per month for the first 20GB of data usage and $8 of data per gigabyte afterwards to avoid throttling during emergencies.

Verizon has not yet responded to requests for comment on the Santa Clara Fire Department's addendum.

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Net Neutrality Rules Officially End Today as Democrats ‘Less Than 50 Votes’ From Advancing Petition in the House

Net neutrality regulations officially expired in the United States earlier this morning, making today the first day of a post-net neutrality internet (via The New York Times). The expiration of the laws comes six months after the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 in favor of repealing net neutrality, a vote that has since faced intense backlash including multi-state lawsuits and a recent move by Democrats to block the repeal.

Although supporters and opponents of net neutrality greatly disagree on how the internet will look following the repeal, without the rules internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T now have the legal ability to throttle any traffic on their networks, and block access to sites and services completely, as long as they inform their customers of their actions. In essence, many have theorized that this could lead to ISPs bundling "packages" of internet sites and selling them like cable companies, as well as putting high-paying customers in "fast lanes" and everyone else in "slow lanes."


Of course, all of these changes won't happen at once, and some states won't see any affect from the disappearance of net neutrality today due to local legislation. Washington state governor Jay Inslee signed a law in March that effectively reinstated the federal net neutrality rules for its residents, and other state governors in Montana and New York are said to have used executive orders "to force net neutrality." A total of 29 state legislatures had introduced bills to ensure net neutrality as of May, but many failed or are still pending today as the national repeal takes place.

Democrats took to the Senate last month and won a vote to restore net neutrality rules across the country, which is now facing a major hurdle in the House of Representatives. According to Bloomberg, Democrats are now "less than 50 votes" from advancing their resolution in the House that would reinstate net neutrality protections, with a petition to force a vote at 170 of 218 signatures needed. If the measure ultimately makes it to President Trump's desk, it's believed that it would likely still be struck down as the President wouldn't go against a regulation created by his own FCC chairman Ajit Pai.

The pro-net neutrality petition's sponsor, Representative Mike Doyle, noted that many see the measure gaining momentum as customers become aware of how things could change in the future.
“If certain services are blocked or throttled, they get it,” Doyle said. "People start to understand, these are protections for consumers that no longer exist.”
In contrast, USTelecom president Jonathan Spalter said the outcry is unfounded and pointed out that "it's business as usual on the internet today."
“It’s business as usual on the internet today -- movies are streaming, e-commerce is thriving, and advocates are using the internet to make their voices heard,” said Jonathan Spalter, president of broadband trade group USTelecom with members including AT&T and Verizon. “These positive and profound benefits of a free and open internet -- among many others -- are here to stay.”
FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a press conference on Friday that today's repeal will lead to "better, faster, cheaper internet access for consumers, and more competition." Supporters of the repeal cite the return to an "open" and less regulated internet, seen prior to the 2015 induction of net neutrality. Multiple groups taking the FCC's side in the debate and in numerous legal battles include wireless communications trade association CTIA, which represents AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, and NCTA, an association representing cable carriers like Comcast and Charter.

As Democrats gather votes in the House, many of the big technology companies have voiced support of net neutrality, including Netflix, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Although the company and its executives have not discussed the topic in a few months, Apple's comment last year stated that the net neutrality repeal could "fundamentally alter the internet as we know it," and if it passed it would be put in place to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation.

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U.S. Senate Votes to Restore Net Neutrality, Now Expected to Face Major Hurdle in House

The United States Senate today voted to repeal the Federal Communication Commission's "Restoring Internet Freedom" order, which was enacted last December and reverses Obama-era Net Neutrality rules. Today's decision ended with a vote of 52-47 in favor of restoring Net Neutrality protections, with supporters totaling all 47 Democratic Senators, two independents, and three Republican Senators.

The Senate Democrats used the Congressional Review Act to call for the vote to halt Net Neutrality's repeal. The law gives Congress 60 days to review and potentially reverse regulations passed by a federal agency, in this case the FCC.


Under the act, the decision will now move onto the House of Representatives, where it's expected to not make it past the Republican-majority House. If the measure ultimately makes it to President Trump's desk, it's likewise believed that he wouldn't back the decision to go against a regulation created by his own FCC chairman Ajit Pai.

Net Neutrality has been an increasingly heated debate since momentum gathered in the Republican-controlled FCC last fall, predicting the repeal of the rules that eventually came in December. If the new efforts fail, Net Neutrality rules will officially end in the U.S. in less than a month, on June 11, 2018.

The reversal of Net Neutrality protections classifies internet service providers as "information service" providers, as they were prior to the advent of Net Neutrality in 2015. While supporters of the rollback describe the move as a return to a less-regulated internet, opponents fear that ISPs will be able to slow down internet speeds -- or block access completely -- to any website they see as a competitor.

Some ISPs have come out stating they would not slow down a user's internet in any way, including AT&T. In January, the carrier pledged a commitment "to an open internet" in an open letter written by CEO Randall Stephenson. The letter explained that AT&T has not and does not plan to block websites, censor online content, or throttle, discriminate, and degrade network performance based on a website's contents, although Stephenson didn't mention some topics of concern for Net Neutrality supporters like online fast lanes and "paid prioritization."

Apple's comment on the topic last year stated that the Net Neutrality repeal could "fundamentally alter the internet as we know it," and if it passed it would be put in place to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation. Around the same time last August, the FCC received a record-breaking 22 million comments from the public who voiced their opinions on the controversial issue in the months leading up to the December vote.

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FCC Sets End Date for Net Neutrality on June 11 as Democrats Lead Vote to Block Repeal

The Federal Communications Commission gave a notice today that states Net Neutrality rules will officially end in the United States on June 11, 2018 (via Reuters). The FCC voted 3-2 in favor of repealing the rules last December, a repeal that was then made official with an entry into the Federal Register in February.

Multi-state lawsuits soon popped up in efforts to block the rollback of Net Neutrality, and now more than a dozen Democratic senators have moved to force a vote on a proposal that would reinstate Net Neutrality protections. According to CNN, the vote is expected to pass the Senate, but will face an "uphill battle" in the Republican-majority House of Representatives, and "would likely be vetoed" by President Trump if it got that far.


Still, Democratic senator Ed Markey cited building momentum for the proposal, with the Senate's vote expected to happen in the middle of next week.
"Our intent is to have it pass in the Senate, the momentum is building," he said. "We expect there to be some considerable momentum coming out of the Senate and 160 will quickly grow towards the 218 that we need to have a vote over there as well."

"When we pass this in the Senate, when we pass it in the House of Representatives, when it's clear the electorate is at 86% favorable for this issue, that we would have a political firestorm throughout this country if President Trump announced that he was going to veto that said protections, replacing it with exactly nothing," he said.
The repeal of Net Neutrality rules will allow internet service providers to block or slow down any website, service, or app they want to as long as they disclose any act of internet throttling to their customers. Those in favor of the repeal say the decision was made to restore broadband internet services as a "lightly-regulated" market.

On the other side, opponents argue that the repeal gives Verizon, Comcast, and other ISPs the free reign to essentially control the customer's internet by dividing users into so-called "fast lanes" and "slow lanes." Apple is one of the many companies against the repeal of Net Neutrality, stating last August that the ruling could "fundamentally alter the internet as we know it," and if it passed it would be put in place to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation.

Many websites are issuing alerts about the upcoming Net Neutrality Senate vote by joining the The Red Alert for Net Neutrality project. On sites like Reddit, Tumblr, Etsy, GitHub, and more, visitors will be presented with a large red screen that urges users to contact their local lawmakers and voice their support of Net Neutrality.

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Washington Becomes First State to Pass Its Own Net Neutrality Law in Defiance of FCC

Washington this week became the first state to pass a new law -- House Bill 2282 -- that restores and protects certain net neutrality rules, after the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 in favor of repealing net neutrality nationwide late last year. Washington state's new rules were signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee yesterday, and prevent internet service providers from blocking and slowing down content online (via The New York Times).

Many multi-state lawsuits began cropping up following the net neutrality vote in December, but this marks the first time that a state has directly gone against the FCC and enacted its own regulations on how ISPs are regulated within the state. Now, the Washington state law will go into effect starting June 6, 2018, barring ISPs from blocking websites, throttling speeds, or charging its customers more for faster speeds on select sites "in a way that benefits the broadband company and partner websites."



These actions are now technically legal under the repeal of net neutrality by the FCC, made official by its entry into the Federal Register in February and becoming nationwide law itself April 23, 2018. The law signed by Inslee is said to "immediately" put back into place consumer protections provided by net neutrality rules, and was "passed with broad bipartisan support in the state legislature."
“Today we make history: Washington will be the first state in the nation to preserve the open internet,” Inslee said during today’s bill signing ceremony. “We’ve seen the power of an open internet. It allows a student in Washington to connect with researchers all around the world — or a small business to compete in the global marketplace. It’s allowed the free flow of information and ideas in one of the greatest demonstrations of free speech in our history.”
Besides Washington state, lawsuits and movements against the FCC have appeared in nearly two dozen states, with bills in each appearing similar to the one signed by Governor Inslee this week. Washington state's law -- and any others that appear in the future -- are expected to end up in court, because part of the FCC's rules passed under the repeal of net neutrality explicitly mentioned that states could not create their own rules.

Various tech companies also joined together in a lawsuit against the FCC filed on Monday, with Etsy, Foursquare, and Kickstarter among the companies banning together to fight the net neutrality repeal. Before the 3-2 vote in December, Apple was vocal against the potential repeal of net neutrality, emphasizing its stance in a letter last August that urged the FCC not to roll back the rules. Apple said this repeal could risk "fundamentally altering the internet as we know it today—to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation."

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Net Neutrality Repeal Made Official With Entry Into Federal Register

It's been two months since the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 in favor of repealing Net Neutrality rules that were put in place by the United States government in 2015. That decision has been made official today by being entered into the Federal Register, and will become law starting April 23, 2018.

Following the vote, lawsuits began to appear in efforts to block the rollback of Net Neutrality, with one multi-state lawsuit being led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and 22 other Attorneys General. As pointed out by TechCrunch, now that the Restoring Internet Freedom order "legally exists," every opponent in the U.S., "from citizens to attorney generals to governors and senators," will be able to begin their own lawsuits over the decision.


Prior to today, many actions contemplated and indeed announced by opponents of the rule were technically not possible, since the rule was technically not yet in force. A state can’t, for example, argue that its own laws are infringed upon by a rule until that rule legally exists.

Today is the moment that the net neutrality repeal legally exists, and you’re going to see a lot — a lot — of actions taken against it, all over the country.
The decision was heavily debated leading up to the vote in December, with proponents arguing the internet will now go back to a "light-touch regulatory scheme" it faced prior to 2015 and the advent of Net Neutrality. Opponents of the repeal vocalized fear that internet service providers will now be able to slow down internet speeds -- or block access completely -- to certain websites they see as competitors, among other concerns.

Specifically, the FCC's vote reclassifies ISPs as "information service" providers -- as they were between February 1996 and February 2015 -- instead of classifying them as "common carriers" under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. According to the Federal Register document published today, the decision to do this was made to restore broadband internet services as a "lightly-regulated" market. This means that one of the only major stipulations placed on ISPs like AT&T and Comcast is that if they do throttle a user's internet for any reason, they must disclose it. For its part, AT&T has said it is "committed to an open internet."

A report by Recode in January examined how major technology companies responded to the Net Neutrality debate, with Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google spending about $50 million in 2017 lobbying the government on the issue. Apple alone was said to have spent $7 million on lobbying last year with a focus on encryption and immigration as well as Net Neutrality, growing from $4.5 million in 2016.

Apple's push against the repeal of Net Neutrality included a letter from August 2017 urging the FCC not to roll back the rules. Apple's letter discussed internet "fast lanes" and "slow lanes," where paid fast lanes could result in an "internet with distorted competition." Apple ultimately said this ruling could "fundamentally alter the internet as we know it," and if it passed it would be put in place to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation.

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AT&T Pledges Commitment to Open Internet Following FCC Vote to Repeal Net Neutrality

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson shared an open letter today on the topic of Net Neutrality, pledging that the company is "committed to an open internet" following the Federal Communications Commission's vote last month to repeal Net Neutrality.

In the letter, Stephenson said that AT&T does not block websites, censor online content, or throttle, discriminate, and degrade network performance based on a website's contents.

According to Stephenson, AT&T has committed to the support of an open internet "for over 10 years," and will continue to do so. Furthermore, he urged Congress to pen new laws to govern the internet and protect customers, putting an end to the ongoing change in rules and regulations placed on the internet. Stephenson called this the "Internet Bill of Rights."
But the commitment of one company is not enough. Congressional action is needed to establish an “Internet Bill of Rights” that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection for all internet users.

Legislation would not only ensure consumers’ rights are protected, but it would provide consistent rules of the road for all internet companies across all websites, content, devices and applications. In the very near future, technological advances like self-driving cars, remote surgery and augmented reality will demand even greater performance from the internet. Without predictable rules for how the internet works, it will be difficult to meet the demands of these new technology advances.
Under the repeal of Net Neutrality, internet service providers are reclassified from "common carriers" under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, to "information service" providers, which they had been previously between 1996 and 2015. This caused worry among Net Neutrality supporters, because companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and more will be legally allowed to block or slow down access to certain websites, or even charge access to sites.

While the FCC is still in the stages of finalizing the repeal of Net Neutrality, lawsuits have emerged aiming to stop the rollback of these rules and ensure that Net Neutrality remains. In the months ahead of the vote, Apple urged the FCC not to repeal Net Neutrality, which includes regulations that prevent "paid fast lanes" on the internet.

As pointed out by Recode, online fast lanes and "paid prioritization" are a few topics missing from Stephenson's letter. This aspect of Net Neutrality prevents an ISP -- like AT&T -- from charging websites more so that users can gain access to that site at a faster rate, while sites that can't afford the increased cost would see slow load times for users, leading to "fast lanes" and "slow lanes." When asked about the topic, AT&T pointed towards previous public posts where it discussed support of banning forms of paid prioritization over the years.

In the new letter, Stephenson ended by stating AT&T will work with Congress, other internet providers, and consumer groups this year in an attempt to move forward with its "Internet Bill of Rights" in hopes of "permanently" protecting the open internet.

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New York Attorney General Leads Filing of Multi-State Lawsuit to Block Rollback of Net Neutrality

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this afternoon announced that he and 22 other Attorneys General have teamed up to file a lawsuit aiming to stop the Federal Communications Commission's planned rollback of net neutrality.

The multi-state lawsuit [PDF] asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to review the FCC's repeal order, calling it arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion that violates federal law.


"An open internet - and the free exchange of ideas it allows - is critical to our democratic process," Schneiderman said in a statement on his website. "The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers - allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online. This would be a disaster for New York consumers and businesses, and for everyone who cares about a free and open internet."

The FCC has not filed its new rules with the Federal Register, so the repeal is not yet final, but the lawsuit has been filed out of "an abundance of caution" and to "preserve the right to be included in the judicial lottery procedure." It's essentially the states' way of establishing the first step towards a full challenge of the FCC's decision.


The lawsuit is backed by Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

In related net neutrality news, 50 senators have now endorsed a legislative measure to override the FCC's net neutrality repeal, reports The Washington Post. With one additional Republican vote, a Senate resolution of disapproval will be able to be passed, but it will still need to make it to the House and be signed by President Trump.

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FCC Has Voted to Repeal Net Neutrality Rules

The Federal Communications Commission today voted to repeal Net Neutrality rules put in place by the United States government back in 2015 under the Obama administration (via Recode). Instead of classifying internet service providers as "common carriers" under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC has voted 3-2 in favor of rolling back to reclassifying ISPs as "information service" providers, as they were between February 1996 and February 2015.


Now, companies like AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and Verizon will be allowed to block or slow down a user's access to certain websites, as well as potentially charge access to sites and services. The vote passed in favor under FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, along with the two other Republican commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Brendan Carr. Outvoted were Democrat commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel.

The order now adopted by the FCC today will eliminate a "utility-style regulation" of ISPs, and also removes any requirement for these companies to refrain from blocking or throttling web traffic. One requirement remaining is that telecom companies will be forced to tell customers if and when they prioritize their content over competitors, and if they don't they could face penalties from the Federal Trade Commission.

Apple and many other large technology companies previously urged the FCC to reconsider its proposal. Those in favor of keeping ISPs classified under Title II argued that the FCC rolling back the internet's classification as a public utility will hurt net neutrality, as it could eventually divide internet users into so-called "fast lanes" and "slow lanes." Throughout his remarks given today, Pai said that this will not be the case.
And Pai, before the vote was final, sought to swat away his critics. “Following today’s vote,” he began, “Americans will still be able to access the websites they want to visit. They will still be able to enjoy the services they want to enjoy. There will still be cops on the beat guarding a free and open Internet.”
Apple's comment on the topic earlier this year stated that this ruling could "fundamentally alter the internet as we know it," and if it passed it would be put in place to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation. Around the same time, the FCC received a record-breaking 22 million comments from the public who voiced their opinions on the controversial issue in the months leading up to today's vote.

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