Public interest groups, Earthlink Inc. and Verizon Communications, Inc. all tried to get in on the legal action this week before the 10-day deadline Monday after the Federal Communications Commission voted earlier this month to classify cable modem Internet service in a way that could result in its light regulation under federal law.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit received a number of filings challenging on varying grounds the 3-1 FCC vote March 15th classifying cable modem service as an “information service.” While just the beginning of the FCCs consideration of the matter, the end result could be no “open access” requirements – which force ISPs to open their infrastructure to competitors – on cable ISPs, and a ban on local jurisdictions demanding levies from cable ISPs.
On Monday, the Media Access Project (MAP), a Washington-based public-interest law firm, announced that it had filed suit in the court of appeals against the FCC on behalf of three “citizens groups” to challenge the FCCs decision. Those groups are the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and the Center for Digital Democracy.
The Media Access Project suit seeks to defend maximum consumer choice of ISPs. However, MAP also construes the debate in First Amendment terms. In a prepared statement Monday, the organizations president, Andrew Jay Schwartzman, suggested that ISPs might be engaged in unconstitutional censorship of “social, artistic and political discourse.”
“Without non-discriminatory open access, cable operators retain the legal right to censor messages, to limit the size and nature of files which can be uploaded and downloaded, and to favor content provided by their commercial “partners” and “preferred vendors,” said Schwartzman.
Internet service provider Earthlink has also joined the fray. “We think that there are legal and policy errors,” Dave Baker, vice president for law and policy at Earthlink, told eWeek. “In essence we think that the FCC is confusing unregulated information services like broadband Internet access with the networks over which those are delivered, and its just kind of mashing them all together and calling the whole thing and information service,” said Baker.
While Earthlink is signing many access deals already with the likes of AOL Time Warner and AT&T Broadband, said Baker, “the reason the were appealing this decision is because there are still a lot more cable companies our there, a lot more systems, and certainly a lot more consumers who deserve choice in their broadband Internet provider over cable.”
Verizon Communications also filed on Monday, but on different grounds than the other groups, a Verizon spokesman stressed.
“We would not wish the regulations we are under on the cable industry,” said Bob Bishop, of Verizon. Rather, he said, “were arguing that cable modem and telephony broadband should be treated alike in the regulatory arena.”
Earlier this year, the FCC voted in a similar fashion to classify DSL (digital subscriber line) service as a more lightly regulated “information service.” This service is provided by telecommunications carriers such as Verizon. However, substantial and different regulations exist for DSL, said Bishop.
In Verizons filing the company argues that the FCCs initial declaratory ruling on cable modem service violates the First and Fifth Amendment, and the company demands relief for unequal treatment. “While in separate proceedings the Commission has sought comment on potential changes in the ongoing, regulatory treatment of high-speed Internet access service offered by telephone companies, its current rules impose burdens that cable companies are shielded from as a result of the Declaratory Ruling,” the company argued.
An FCC spokesperson declined comment on the filings.