Net neutrality rules prohibit broadband internet service providers from discriminating against lawful internet traffic, generally by blocking it or slowing it down, for financial or other reasons. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued formal rules protecting net neutrality. These rules offered critical protections for County residents, start-ups, small and large business, and County government.
The rules are critical, because ISPs will act in their economic interests, even when public safety is on the line. As the County told the Court, Verizon even throttled the connection of a County Fire emergency response vehicle during the worst wildfire in California history.
The County has made substantial investments in systems that provide critical health, welfare, and safety services over the Internet, and a reversal of the FCC's net neutrality rules threatens the ability of County residents to access those and other critical web-based services. On December 14, 2017, the FCC (now chaired by Trump appointee Ajit Pai), announced its decision to reverse course and eliminate its net neutrality rules. On February 22, 2018, immediately after the publication of the decision, the County filed a lawsuit challenging the decision to repeal the net neutrality rules. The County filed its Opening Brief in the case on August 20, 2018 and its Reply Brief on November 16, 2018, and presented oral argument to the court on February 1, 2019. On October 1, 2019, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed with the County that the FCC had violated the law by failing to consider how its repeal of the net neutrality rules would impact public safety. Although it upheld the FCC’s repeal, it directed the agency to consider the public safety implications of its decision. On April 20, 2020, the County filed a comment explaining to the FCC why the repeal threatens public safety and urging it to reinstate the net neutrality rules.
The County has also supported other efforts to advance net neutrality principles. It supported the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018 (SB 822 (Wiener)) and opposed AB 1366 (Gonzalez), which would have continued to block internet-based phone regulation in California.