U.S. Justice Dept. drops challenge to California state net neutrality law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department on Monday withdrew its Trump-era legal challenge to California’s state net neutrality law aimed at protecting the open internet.

FILE PHOTO: Supporter of Net Neutrality Lance Brown Eyes protests the FCC's recent decision to repeal the program in Los Angeles, California, November 28, 2017. REUTERS/ Kyle Grillot

Under then-President Donald Trump, the Justice Department in 2018 argued that federal law preempted the state statute prohibiting internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes.

California’s legislature voted to adopt its own statute after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2017 repealed net neutrality rules put in place by the administration of former President Barack Obama.

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel praised the Justice Department’s decision.

“When the FCC, over my objection, rolled back its net neutrality policies, states like California sought to fill the void with their own laws,” she said in a statement. “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.”

California’s law, which was put on hold pending the legal challenges, reinstates prohibitions from the 2015 federal net neutrality rules. A separate challenge to the California law from industry groups is pending and a Feb. 23 hearing is set.

On Monday, advocacy group Public Knowledge asked the FCC to reconsider its October decision to stand by its repeal after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia largely upheld the 2017 decision but ordered the agency to reconsider its impact on public safety and other issues.

The California Public Utilities Commission last month also challenged the FCC’s decision in an appeals court filing in October.

The FCC chairman under the Republican Trump, Ajit Pai, stepped down on Jan. 20, when Democratic President Joe Biden was inaugurated. His resignation left the FCC divided between Republicans and Democrats.

Biden has yet to designate a permanent chair or nominate a replacement.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall