EXPLAINER: California's net neutrality law springs to life

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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Dec. 14, 2017, file photo, Sammi LeMaster, left, and Katherine Fuchs, right, carry the top of an alarm clock display that reads "Net Neutrality" after a protest at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, where the FCC was scheduled to meet and vote on net neutrality. More than three years ago, Trump-era regulators killed federal net neutrality regulations designed to prevent major internet providers from exploiting their dominance to favor certain services or apps over others. In response, seven states and Puerto Rico enacted their own net neutrality policies. The most expansive effort of this sort was in California, which will start enforcing its law on Thursday, March 25. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

More than three years ago, Trump-era regulators killed federal net neutrality regulations designed to prevent AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and other major internet providers from exploiting their dominance to favor certain services or apps over others. In response, seven states and Puerto Rico enacted their own net neutrality policies. The most expansive effort of this sort was in California, which will start enforcing its law on Thursday — with potentially significant consequences for the rest of the U.S.

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WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?

In a nutshell, it's the principle that internet providers should treat all web traffic equally to ensure a free and open network. It's pretty much how the internet has worked since its creation. Consumer advocates, internet companies like Mozilla and Democrats were concerned that huge broadband providers might wield their clout to boost their own business.

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WHAT DOES CALIFORNIA'S LAW DO?

It follows the contours of the Obama-era federal regulation the Trump administration spiked. That rule banned internet providers like Comcast or AT&T from slowing down or blocking access to websites or charging internet companies like Netflix for a faster route to customers. The California law took a step farther in also banning some forms of “zero rating” — a term for when a cable or phone company exempts a service from data caps. Net-neutrality advocates say such programs undermine competition by potentially tilting users to the sponsored app and away from rivals.

The Trump administration sued to block California's 2018 law, preventing it from taking effect for years. The Biden administration dropped that suit. The telecom industry is still fighting the law, but a judge ruled in February that California could begin enforcing it.