USTelecom Continues its Legal Fight Against FCC on Net Neutrality

The telecommunications trade group has filed a supplemental petition with the courts so it can keep its legal standing in the fight against recent net neutrality rules changes made by the FCC.

Title II, Internet, net neutrality, FCC, USTelecom

In March, USTelecom, a Washington-based telecommunications trade group that is battling the FCC over recent net neutrality changes made by the agency, filed a protective petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia as a first step in its legal fight over the issue.

Now, the group has filed a second legal barrage, this time a "supplemental petition for review," so that it keeps 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 Federal Communications Commission recently adopted its new rules.

In a conference call with journalists April 13, Jonathan Banks, USTelecom's senior vice president for law and policy, said that the filing of the supplemental petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is still an early legal step as his group works to get court relief from the FCC's recent actions.

The latest filing addresses "technical legal rules about when is the right time to file a challenge," Banks said. "This will start the clock," while other legal processes will continue to be followed.

Banks said he expects legal briefs involving the case to be filed by both sides this summer, while legal arguments will be heard by the courts in the fall. He said he thinks that the courts will then take three to four months to render their decisions in the case.

Banks also said that he expects other plaintiffs who oppose the FCC's recent net neutrality rules to file their own similar legal requests over the next several days.

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 of the U.S. Communications Act. The 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.

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.

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.

USTelecom isn't the only plaintiff fighting the FCC over the net neutrality rules changes. Also in March, Alamo Broadband, an Elmendorf, Texas-based broadband provider, filed a legal action to stake its claims in the fight.

The new FCC rules changes are slated to go into effect in June, but the legal actions by USTelecom and Alamo Broadband are asking the courts to turn aside the new FCC rules.

Banks reiterated that his group's main claim in the case is that the FCC's move to change the classification of broadband providers to entities under the rules of Title II is arbitrary and capricious, and violates federal law. "Title II has not been a regime that has led to innovation," he said.

USTelecom is "thinking through" the possibilities of seeking a stay from the courts to block the FCC's rules changes, if it is warranted and helpful, he said.

"In challenging the legality of the FCC's Open Internet order, USTelecom believes the FCC used the wrong approach to implementing net neutrality standards, which our industry supports and incorporates into everyday business practices," Walter McCormick, the president of USTelecom said in a statement. "Reclassifying broadband Internet access as a public utility reverses decades of established legal precedent at the FCC [which was then] upheld by the Supreme Court. History has shown that common carrier regulation slows innovation, chills investment and leads to increased costs on consumers."