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Justice Department Sues California To Block State's Net Neutrality Law


California's governor, Jerry Brown, signed a law last night barring Internet service providers from blocking or slowing down traffic or charging for faster loading. The law basically restores the net neutrality rules created under the Obama administration and repealed under President Trump. These are seen as the strongest net neutrality protections in the country. And within hours, the Justice Department sued to block the California law.

NPR's Alina Selyukh is here to walk us through what this means for Internet users like us. Hey, Alina.


SHAPIRO: Remind us what net neutrality is and what impact this California law, if implemented, would have on ordinary people going online.

SELYUKH: Right. The overarching question of net neutrality is how much power your Internet providers should have over your Internet experience. So typically when people talk about net neutrality, they mean regulations like no blocking of whatever website you want to visit, that Internet providers should not be able to slow down an app that you're visiting. Other elements sometimes include things like zero rating, which is a deal where Verizon might give you streaming of Hulu that doesn't count toward your data restrictions but then count Netflix toward data restrictions. And these are all rules that California put into place. They banned all these things.

SHAPIRO: Before the Trump administration repealed the net neutrality rules, there was a really vocal campaign by activists trying to get the FCC not to take this step. Now that California has gone this route, what has the reaction been?

SELYUKH: Well, California was indeed sort of reacting to the massive liberal wave of activism and online activism that prompted the writing of these rules. You know, the battle lines have been drawn for a while on the net neutrality debate, and they're still the same. On the one hand, you've got Internet companies, especially smaller ones like Etsy or video streaming company Vimeo saying that these rules are critical for them to be able to compete against the bigger companies. On the other side, you've got the telecom providers - your AT&T, your Verizon, your Comcast - that have been pushing California to not put net neutrality rules into place and are expected to sue California as well.

SHAPIRO: And the Justice Department has already sued California. Explain why they're doing that.

SELYUKH: On so many things actually. So it's - on a political level, California is an interesting state. It is the largest economy in the United States. It has the power to sort of set the bar for a lot of regulations. And they have used that power. And they're currently in legal dispute with the Department of Justice over a variety of policies, including immigration, emissions standards. And often when California sets a standard, many companies look around and think to themselves that it is a lot easier to just abide by the California standard and sort of how goes California, so goes the rest of the nation.

SHAPIRO: Kind of the role that Texas played during the Obama administration, a economic powerhouse that counters the politics of who's in the Oval Office.

SELYUKH: And the Department of Justice in this case did respond. You know, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said exactly that essentially he's accusing California Legislature of attempting to frustrate federal policy, as he put it.

SHAPIRO: So what does this mean for consumers and companies while this fight plays out?

SELYUKH: Not much yet. The rules were not slated to go into effect until January. At this point, the Justice Department is seeking an injunction to not have those rules go into effect at all. In the meantime, on a federal level, the tech companies and the consumer groups and 20 attorneys general, including the California attorney general, are suing the Federal Communications Commission, trying to unroll the repeal of the Obama-era rules. So all of this is kind of in the hands of the courts. And we're waiting to see how that plays out.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Alina Selyukh, thanks.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.
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