Report: Verizon to let CTIA, NCTA lead legal fight over FCC's net neutrality rules

Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ), AT&T (NYSE: T), Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and other carriers and ISPs are likely going to let industry trade associations take up the legal fight against the FCC and sue the agency over its net neutrality rules, according to a Reuters report.

The report, citing unnamed sources, said that some companies, including Verizon, are not planning to sue the FCC. Comcast and Verizon sued the FCC over its first attempt at net neutrality rules, issued in 2010, and were largely successful in overturning those rules.

Reuters reported that CTIA, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the broadband association USTelecom are the ones expected to file lawsuits against the rules. The three trade groups declined comment, according to the report.

By letting trade groups lead the legal fight against the rules, carriers and ISPs can streamline the litigation and avoid the negative publicity they might receive by opposing the rules.

According to the report, other trade groups such as the American Cable Association and the National Association of Manufacturers are considering whether to participate in litigation, representatives said.

"We believe there will be a lot of litigation, which will probably be led by industry associations," Verizon CFO Fran Shammo told Reuters this week.

CTIA in particular has been vociferous in its opposition to the rules. The trade has argued that the FCC's decision to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act was unnecessary and will harm innovation. Further, CTIA has argued that the FCC does not have the legal authority to bring mobile broadband under Title II. The FCC has countered that it does, and it is simply updating legal definitions to reflect the changing nature of networks.

The lawsuits from trade groups are likely to attack both the substance of the rules and the administrative process used to enact them, according to two telecom lobbyists familiar with the discussions who spoke to Reuters. FCC officials have said they believe the new rules are on firm legal ground, and were implemented in an open and legal way.

Not every carrier is up in arms over the rules. T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) CEO John Legere said at a company event yesterday that the company is still trying to analyze the FCC's rules, which run more than 300 pages. Some net neutrality proponents have said that T-Mobile's "Music Freedom" program, which zero-rates the data usage from more than two dozen streaming music services, violates the rules. However, the rules do not take a stance on existing programs like that, and will judge future ones on a case-by-case basis. "I am fairly confident that everything we're doing, including Music Freedom, will be allowed," he said.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler continues to defend the rules in public events, including Senate hearings. But Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), during a recent hearing, blasted Wheeler and said the rules do not exercise "regulatory humility." Thune said Wheeler "chose to take the most radical, polarizing, and partisan path possible."

"Instead of working with me and my colleagues in the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis, to find a consensus, the three of you chose an option that I believe will only increase political, regulatory, and legal uncertainty, which will ultimately hurt average Internet users," Thune said, according to PC Mag. "Simply put, your actions jeopardize the open Internet that we are all seeking to protect."

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this PC Mag article

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