FCC Hit With Four More Lawsuits Over Net Neutrality Rules Changes

Six groups have now filed petitions with U.S. courts arguing that the FCC's reclassification of the Internet as a public utility under Title II of the U.S. Communications Act is wrong.

Internet, FCC, net neutrality, lawsuits

The legal fight against the FCC over recent net neutrality changes made by the agency continues as four more lawsuits have been filed by additional plaintiffs who oppose the agency's decision to begin to regulate the Internet as a public utility under Title II of the U.S. Communications Act.

The latest legal actions were filed separately on April 14 by AT&T, the CTIA mobile trade association, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and by the American Cable Association, which represents smaller independent cable companies.

The new suits argue that the FCC's reclassification of the Internet will harm consumers, stifle innovation and ultimately be bad for the Internet itself. The reclassification, as well as other rules changes, will go into effect in late June, unless it is blocked by the courts. The latest legal actions do not object to the other rules changes recently made by the FCC regarding net neutrality, including bans on slowing down access speeds for some users.

The four new filings followed similar lawsuits that were filed against the Federal Communications Commission in March by USTelecom, a Washington-based telecommunications trade group, and by Alamo Broadband, an Elmendorf, Texas-based broadband provider.

The U.S. 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 problem, according to the latest lawsuits, is that the FCC's move to place broadband providers under the rules of Title II is arbitrary and capricious, and violates federal law.

"CTIA and the wireless industry have always supported an open Internet, which is why these rules will only chill investment and innovation and increase costs for consumers," CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker said in a statement. "The FCC ignored that the competitive, constantly innovating mobile broadband industry provides Americans with faster networks and a wide variety of devices and service plans. Instead of promoting greater industry investment in the connected world of tomorrow, the FCC opted to resuscitate a command-and-control regulatory regime, including a process where innovators must first seek permission from the FCC before rolling out new services."

Even worse, said Baker, is that "the FCC usurped the role of Congress and departed from a bipartisan mobile-specific framework to create a new intrusive regulatory framework. CTIA had no choice but to seek judicial review to preserve the regulatory approach that has been instrumental in helping the U.S. become the global leader in 4G services."

Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, who is helping to represent the NCTA in its legal action, said in a statement that "The FCC, in effect, has impermissibly rewritten the Communications Act," which he argued is contrary to the wishes of Congress. "Instead of letting regulators play the central role in determining how the Internet evolves, [Congress] wanted these decisions to be left to the creativity of entrepreneurs, engineers and consumers. The commission's decision to expand its power and apply heavy regulation has undermined that core principle. I believe we have a powerful and compelling case."

In February, the FCC approved its new net neutrality rules by a 3-2 vote, with the key and most controversial change being that the agency will now 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. Critics vehemently disagree with that analysis.

The new FCC 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.

Earlier this week, USTelecom filed a supplemental petition with the courts to bolster its standing with the courts in its case against the FCC. The supplemental petition for review allows the group to keep all of its legal options open as the process through the courts continues on what could be a lengthy legal fight focusing on how the FCC recently adopted its new rules.