Last Sunday, members of the Department of Justice (DOJ) decided to sue the state of California following their latest effort to guarantee their citizens the right to net neutrality, an Obama-era regulation that once prevented telecom giants, such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, from issuing discriminatory internet speeds to specific websites and users based on wealth, otherwise titled “paid prioritization,” among other arbitrary, unaccountable reasons.
The lawsuit — introduced in a joint statement from DOJ representatives and Ajit Pai, the current chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — claims that California’s state legislators are attempting to “subvert the Federal Government’s deregulatory approach” in restoring these protective rules. According to new reports published by The New York Times and The Verge, these GOP legal threats came just a few hours after the state’s Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) signed the net neutrality bill into law, which is now being described as “one of the strongest efforts in the nation” to restore online liberties since the controversial FCC repeal last year.
But here’s the hypocritical takeaway: the federal government resisting such pro-user protections, which has the support of leftists and right-wingers alike, demonstrates that their relationship with big tech is merely a rhetorical resistance at best or actively subservient at worst. Yes, while the Trump administration often talks a big game on the issues of online censorship waged against the right-wingers and nominal centrists, evidenced in our reports regarding Google, Twitter and Facebook, we must address the elephant in the room that is the laissez-faire desires of corporations. Even if that means the complete abandonment of states’ rights.
Understand that through the eyes of the DOJ’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions, showing little regard for states’ rights on the issues of drug reform and regulatory crackdowns against predatory student debt collectors, the federal government is king, and their agencies are the single authority of all matters economic, including broadband, as shown in his justification for the lawsuit:
“Under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce — the federal government does,” Sessions wrote in his statement. “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.”
The country, it seems, is their opposition. Remember that California isn’t the only state that’s currently undergoing attempts to restore net neutrality. According to a cited report from The National Conference of State Legislatures, lawmakers from across 30 states have already introduced over 72 bills based around the principle of granting citizens the right to equal internet access and treatment, regardless of their content or unpaid bribes to their telecom gatekeepers.
This is in addition to the governors from six states, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana, Rhode Island, and Vermont, who have signed executive orders enforcing these protections, while state governments, such as Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, have enacted their own legislation ensuring net neutrality. A lawsuit against California could mean a lawsuit against all, demonstrating the nationwide backing that’ll result in the demand for new federal laws, as suggested by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
“Once we establish California as a model of a state taking action, other states may follow, and then I think you may see some of corporate America say ‘OK, let’s have a federal law, because we don’t want to have to do different things in different states,” Pelosi said at a San Francisco press conference, according to a report published earlier this week by Politico.
This was echoed by California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra, lambasting the Trump administration for “ignoring the millions” of forgotten Americans opposed to net neutrality’s repeal, declaring California “will not allow a handful of power brokers to dictate sources for information or the speed at which websites load. We remain deeply committed to protecting freedom of expression, innovation, and fairness.”
Reports show Becerra blamed Verizon’s data throttling efforts for slowing down his department’s response to the recent wildfires, suggesting more privileged clientele were privy to higher quality speeds at the time. He’s reportedly joined by 20 other state attorney generals in filing counter-suits against the federal rollback of rules, while broadband providers are expected to sue states that enact new rules. In all honesty, the government has found itself in quite the legal Mexican stand-off.
“In their world, no one is allowed to protect an open internet,” declared Scott Wiener, an author of the state bill, according to The Times. “We’ve been down this road before: when Trump and Sessions sued California and claimed we lacked the power to protect immigrants. California fought Trump and Sessions on their immigration lawsuit, California won, and California will fight this lawsuit as well.”
The one defense the government holds is the law’s opposition to zero rating. This was a process that telecom giants used to grant their customers free unlimited streaming on certain sites, ie. Netflix or Hulu, without impacting their data caps, while other sites do. The law argues this is a form of unequal coercion, giving these giants the ability to pick winners and losers in partnerships while other services, even those as successful as YouTube and Twitch, are unfortunately left in the dark.
The previous net neutrality rule didn’t outlaw this bundling practice, while the new law does outright. Chairman Pai claims these provisions will only hurt low-income citizens who actually like companies holding these partnerships with their favored apps. Sure, an upcoming service may suffer for not shaking the right hands and paying the right bribes, but it is a nice deal for the common American users. That said, it’s still a deal with the slow-lane devil.