FCC's Tom Wheeler Confident Net Neutrality Rules Will Defeat Court Challenges
The U.S. telecom industry is suing over Net Neutrality, but Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler says he's confident that the agency's reworking of its Open Internet rules will stand the challenge.
Early last week, and in the most unsurprising development in the FCC's Open Internet saga so far, the U.S. Telecom Association -- an industry group that includes heavies like AT&T and Verizon -- launched a lawsuit to block the FCC's new Open Internet regulations.
While the FCC was formulating the stronger Net Neutrality-mirroring rules -- which prevent both wired and wireless Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or degrading the speeds of data traffic, as well as making paid agreements with Internet content companies for so-called "fast lanes," -- AT&T, Verizon, and others had already publicly threatened to take the agency to court.
It took just a couple of weeks after the FCC voted for the new rules (strictly down party lines) for the U.S. Telecom Association to follow up on the threat. According to CNN, the industry group is asking a federal appellate court to review the FCC's new rules, calling them "arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of direction" in its filing.
Experts who spoke to CNN expect this initial lawsuit to fail, simply because it's too early after the new rules' adoption and most of its implementation is still in early phases. For example, the previous FCC Open Internet rules, adopted in 2010, were only successfully challenged in court by early 2014 -- a ruling that resulted in the FCC's recent, stronger "Title II" reformulation of the Open Internet rules in the first place.
But even if the first lawsuit is dismissed or otherwise fails, it's expected that more lawsuits will follow. As Jose Marquez, FCC critic and founder of LISTA, an organization for Latino businesses and entrepreneurs, recently put it, "The FCC's unnecessary action is legally questionable and will result in years of litigation..."
That doesn't mean FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is backing down. In a speech on Friday to Ohio State University, according to the L.A. Times, Wheeler suggested critics of, and litigants against, the recent FCC decision had motives other than wanting less regulation in order to better invest in their networks.
"We should conclude that the biggest broadband providers in the land have one objective -- to operate free from control by their customers and free from oversight of the government," said Wheeler on Friday. "If they succeed, then for the first time in America's communications history, private gatekeepers will have unfettered power to control commerce and free expression."
Wheeler said he was confident that the new FCC rules would "be upheld by the courts."
This, in part, comes from the stronger legal foundation (classifying ISPs similarly to utility companies) for the FCC's Open Internet policy, which the agency employed in its latest policy decision precisely because the previous regulatory framework had been successfully challenged, and thus scrapped, in January 2014 -- as a result of Verizon's last lawsuit.
In retrospect, it appears Verizon shot itself (and the whole of U.S. telecom) in the foot with its successful lawsuit against the looser, and now seemingly more preferable, regulatory framework of the 2010 Open Internet rules.
Speaking on that issue of legal foundations, Wheeler expressed confidence, saying, "We have addressed that issue, which is the underlying issue in all of the debates we've had so far. That gives me great confidence going forward that we will prevail."
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