New net neutrality rules face first legal battle

Two telecom groups filed petitions against the FCC's 'net neutrality' ruling, setting the tone for telecoms' fight against the decision.

Reuters/Yuri Gripas
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler speaks at the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington February 26, 2015.

Spurned telecoms don’t take long to enact their revenge.

Two weeks to be exact.

Telecom trade group USTelecom and Texas-based broadband provider Alamo Broadband separately filed petitions against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday, each claiming the FCC overstepped its authority by establishing "net neutrality." The response is so quick – the FCC ruling came down just two weeks ago – it may not actually hold up in a legal sense. But the lawsuits do warn of impending legal battles to come over the controversial net neutrality rulings.

USTelecom includes behemoths AT&T and Verizon, while Alamo Broadband covers wireless service in the San Antonio, Texas area. The two groups filed their complaints in different districts, but both had the same basic complaint: the FCC does not have the power to regulate Internet speeds.

"We do not believe the Federal Communications Commission’s move to utility-style regulation invoking Title II authority is legally sustainable," says USTelecom president Walter McCormick in a statement, according to the Washington Post. "Therefore, we are filing a petition to protect our procedural rights in challenging the recently adopted open Internet order.”

In February, the FCC ruled to reinstate net neutrality rules, which essentially protect online companies from having to pay for “Internet fast lanes” by ruling the Internet is a public utility. Before the FCC examined the need for these rules, companies such as Netflix complained telecoms forced them to pay extra for quality streaming. Telecoms on the other hand, say that sites such as these take up more bandwidth, and therefore should pay more. Not to mention, since telecoms laid most of the cable the public uses for Internet today, they have the right to enact tolls to maintain that service. <<>><<>>

Though legal action was readily threatened before the ruling by nearly all major telecoms, few expected the lawsuits to be filed so quickly. The rules aren’t subject to legal action until they have been in the Federal Registrar for 60 days. So far, the rules haven’t even been put in the Federal Registrar.

However, some parts of the ruling are classified as “declaratory rulings” that can be appealed up to 10 days after a decision. The petitions were filed within hours of that deadline, the Washington Post points out.

The FCC called the petitions "premature and subject to dismissal” in a statement. Telecom lawyers don’t anticipate the lawsuits will hold up. Even USTelecom and Alamo Broadband include statements in their petitions that acknowledge the appeals are coming early, but were filed “out of an abundance of caution.”

If nothing else, the petitions foreshadow a determined and powerful telecom lobby won’t go down without a fight.

"These companies have threatened all along to sue over the FCC's decision, even though that decision is supported by millions of people and absolutely essential for our economy," points out Matt Wood, policy director for Free Press in a statement to USA Today. "Apparently some of them couldn't wait to make good on that threat."

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.