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Telecom sector drops its challenge to landmark California net neutrality law

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The US broadband industry has ended its legal challenge to California landmark net neutrality law, which seeks to protect the open internet and keep major internet providers from exploiting their dominance in the sector.

A group of industry associations that represent major internet providers, including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, have dropped their challenge of a federal district court's ruling upholding California's net neutrality law.

While supporters of net neutrality rules celebrate the legislation as a necessary step to ensure a free and open internet, telecom providers believe the rule discourages investment in broadband and introduces uncertainty about acceptable business practices.

The 2018 law allows the California state government to ban internet service providers (ISPs) from slowing down or blocking access to websites and applications that don’t pay for premium service. Last month, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected an industry attempt to prevent the state from enforcing the piece of legislation.

"Following multiple defeats in court, internet service providers have abandoned this effort to block enforcement of California's net neutrality law," California Attorney General, Rob Bonta, said on Wednesday.

The industry associations that had challenged the law said in a joint statement that "broadband providers are united in support of an open internet." They committed themselves to working with Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop a federal approach for resolving the issues.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a senior counsellor at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, celebrated the industry decision as "a boon for free speech, competition and innovation on the internet."

Efforts to put federal net-neutrality rules in place go back more than a decade. In 2015, the FCC under former Barack Obama's presidency adopted net neutrality rules at a federal level for the first time. However, these were overturned two years later under the Trump administration, prompting California's legislature to adopt its own net neutrality state law in August 2018. Six other states and Puerto Rico also followed suit.

California's decision was soon challenged by the Justice Department, which argued that the state law was preempted by the FCC’s 2017 repeal and prevented it from taking effect for years. However, the challenge was dropped in February 2021 - just days after Joe Biden took office.

“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,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the time.

Although the ISPs' decision will allow California's law to be enforced, the FCC remains divided on whether to reinstate federal regulation on this issue. Nonetheless, the debate on the topic has been halted as the organisation awaits the approval of Biden's nominee for the final commission seat, Gigi Sohn.

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