Net Neutrality Court Date Set for Appeal by Opponents

Opponents of the FCC's reclassification of the Internet as a public utility under the U.S. Communications Act will get their day in court on Dec. 4.

Appeal of FCC ruling

A court appeal filed by net neutrality opponents will be heard Dec. 4 in Washington, D.C., as critics of the FCC's moves earlier this year to reclassify the Internet as a public utility continue to argue that the change is not beneficial for the public.

The oral arguments in the appeal will be held in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where the plaintiffs will be able to again present their cases to try to overturn the Federal Communication Commission's changes, according to an Aug. 3 story by Reuters.

The most controversial change by the FCC that went into effect on June 12 is that the agency now regulates the Internet as a public utility under Title II of the U.S. Communications Act. By regulating it as a public utility, the FCC argues that it creates "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.

Despite those assurances, many critics passionately opposed the move, arguing that the Internet does not need that kind of oversight and that it would ultimately stifle innovation and increase costs and hassle for consumers. The courts struck down two prior FCC attempts to set rules for Internet use into the future.

In a 51-page motion filed on May 13, opponents of the FCC's plans, including USTelecom, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, CTIA—The Wireless Association, AT&T, the American Cable Association, CenturyLink and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to halt the FCC's Open Internet Order. The Dec. 4 court date will now hear the oral arguments in the case.

The FCC previously had denied a formal request by the plaintiffs which asked it in May to delay the reclassification changes until several related legal cases were resolved. In a 19-page order denying the delay requests, the FCC said on May 8 that the groups asking for the delay had failed to meet the requirements that would have allowed the agency to put them off.

With the delay denied, the opponents filed a motion to appeal the action with the courts.

In a May 13 statement, USTelecom President Walter McCormick reiterated that his group is not opposed to other changes laid out by the FCC, such as rules prohibiting Internet blocking, throttling and paid prioritization, but is completely at odds with the reclassification provisions that are set to take effect on June 12. The opponents are "seeking to stay this ill-conceived order's reclassification of broadband service as a public utility service," said McCormick. "This reclassification does not serve the public interest, but unlawfully paves the way toward expansive government management of the Internet."

Title II of the U.S. Communications Act was originally intended to make sure that telephone companies provided service to anyone in their coverage area. The opponents argue that the FCC's reclassification of the Internet will harm consumers, stifle innovation and ultimately be bad for the Internet itself. The opponents claim that the FCC's move to place broadband providers under the rules of Title II is arbitrary and capricious, and violates federal law.

The delay requests filed earlier this month were filed by two groups made up of the USTelecom Association, CTIA-The Wireless Association, AT&T, CenturyLink and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association in one petition, and by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the American Cable Association in another petition.

The new FCC rules also enacted several key provisions that are not opposed by the plaintiffs, including 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 June, the FCC hired an ombudsperson to respond to questions and concerns from consumers about the new policies. Parul P. Desai, who formerly served as policy counsel for media, telecommunications and technology policy at Consumers Union and as vice president at the former Media Access Project (MAP), is the agency's first Open Internet ombudsperson, according to an earlier eWEEK report. Desai is the public's primary point of contact within the agency for formal and informal questions and complaints related to the latest Internet rules. Her post was created as part of the new rules that went into effect.