FCC Hit With 2 Lawsuits Over Its Latest Net Neutrality Rules

The USTelecom Association and Texas broadband provider Alamo Broadband argue in their legal filings that the FCC's new net neutrality rules are illegal, unfair and should be blocked. 

FCC, USTelecom, Alamo Broadband, net neutrality

A telecom group and a Texas broadband provider are the first two organizations to file legal actions against the FCC to fight the latest net neutrality regulations that the agency adopted in February.

US Telecom, a Washington-based telecommunications trade group, and Alamo Broadband, an Elmendorf, Texas-based broadband provider, filed individual legal actions on March 23 asking that courts turn aside the new FCC rules.

When the FCC's new net neutrality rules were adopted by the agency on Feb. 26, it was quickly rumored that it would only be a matter of time before the FCC was taken to court over the latest regulations, according to an earlier eWEEK report. It didn't take long for that to happen—only about a month.

In the US Telecom case, the company filed a protective petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia "as a precautionary move to preserve procedural rights in challenging the Federal Communications Commission's open Internet order," the company said in a statement. "The petition was filed in case there is a determination that parties must file for review within 10 days of the date of release or issuance of the FCC's order, rather than within 10 days after Federal Register publication, which USTelecom believes is the better view," the statement continued.

"The focus of our legal appeal will be on the FCC's decision to reclassify broadband Internet access service as a public utility service after a decade of amazing innovation and investment under the FCC's previous light-touch approach," Jon Banks, a USTelecom senior vice president, said in a statement. "As our industry has said many times, we do not block or throttle traffic, and FCC rules prohibiting blocking or throttling will not be the focus of our appeal."

The group said it "strongly supports open Internet rules, but disagrees with the Federal Communications Commission's decision to reclassify broadband Internet providers as common carriers in the order adopted March 12."

A spokesman for USTelecom told eWEEK that it had no additional comments about its legal action.

Alamo Broadband also filed a petition for review, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Texas to block the new FCC rules on their face.

Alamo objects to reclassifying Internet as a telecommunications service subject to regulation by Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, the petition stated, and "is aggrieved by the order and possesses standing to challenge it."

In its petition, the company asks the court to rule that the FCC actions exceeded the agency's authority, that its actions were "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion" and that the actions violated Alamo's constitutional rights and were "otherwise contrary to law."

Brett A. Shumate, a Washington-based attorney for Alamo in the case, could not be reached by eWEEK for comment on the matter.

An FCC spokesman told eWEEK that the agency has received notice of the two legal filings, which are challenging its recent Open Internet Order. "We believe that the petitions for review filed today are premature and subject to dismissal," the spokesman said.

When the agency approved the new net neutrality rules by a 3-2 vote last month, the key and most controversial change was the FCC's move to begin to regulate the Internet as a public utility under Title II. Many critics passionately opposed the move, arguing that the Internet did not need that kind of oversight and that it would ultimately stifle innovation and increase costs and hassle for consumers.

The FCC countered that the new regulations would "set sustainable rules of the roads that will protect free expression and innovation on the Internet and promote investment in the nation's broadband networks," according to an earlier eWEEK report. Two prior attempts by the FCC to set rules for Internet use into the future were struck down by courts, but the latest attempt resolves the legal issues that eventually undermined those attempts, the agency said.

Title II of the Communications Act gives the FCC the power to regulate communications in the United States. Title II was originally intended to make sure that telephone companies provided service to anyone in their coverage area.

The new rules also include key provisions that broadband providers cannot block access to legal content, applications and services, nor can they "throttle," or slow up, access to lawful Internet traffic, according to the FCC. Also prohibited under the new rules is paid prioritization in which broadband providers could favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for extra payments, essentially prohibiting so-called fast lanes to the highest bidders.

The issue of net neutrality has been a hotbed for several years, with proponents and opponents arguing their positions and bashing the opposition verbally in public forums and discussions.

In September 2014, the FCC announced that it had received a record 3 million comments about proposed rules for net neutrality by a Sept. 15 deadline.