USTelecom, Alamo Broadband file lawsuits against FCC's net neutrality rules

Well, that didn't take long. Broadband industry trade group USTelecom and a small Texas-based ISP, Alamo Broadband, filed lawsuits challenging the FCC's recently approved net neutrality rules. However, the petitions are likely going to be tossed out for being filed too early.

The lawsuits kick off a legal battle to overturn the rules, a battle that will likely last well into next year and could reach the U.S. Supreme Court. A key element of the legal challenges will be focused on whether the FCC has the authority to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

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

USTelecom thinks the FCC's rules are "arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion," and violate various laws, regulations and rulemaking procedures, according to Reuters.

Alamo says that the FCC's regulations apply unnecessary requirements on it under Title II. "Alamo is thus aggrieved by the order and possesses standing to challenge it," the company's lawyers wrote in the petition, a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Post.

The FCC has been expecting legal challenges and thinks it is standing on firm legal ground when the court battles truly begin. For now, the agency thinks the new lawsuits will be dismissed. "We believe that the petitions for review filed today are premature and subject to dismissal," the FCC said in a statement distributed yesterday to multiple news outlets.

As the New York Times notes, the lawsuits came sooner than many legal experts had expected, since the rules are not set to take effect until 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register, which has not even happened yet. A federal appeals court in April 2011 dismissed a challenge Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) and MetroPCS brought against the FCC's 2010 net neutrality rules, saying they had filed too soon. Verizon eventually re-filed its lawsuit and won, forcing the FCC to go down the path toward the new rules.

However, according to unnamed legal experts familiar with the challenges cited by the Post, certain sections of the FCC's rules go into effect earlier. Those parts, referred to as the "declaratory ruling" sections of the net neutrality regulations, were considered final as soon as the FCC published them on its website, which it did March 12.

USTelecom said its filing its "protective," and Alamo said it filed its lawsuit "in an abundance of caution."

Reuters reported last week that, according to unnamed sources familiar with the matter, CTIA, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and USTelecom would lead the legal fight against the rules. That would let Verizon, AT&T (NYSE: T), Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and other carriers avoid the spotlight of being the ones to challenge the rules.

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.

For more:
- see this Washington Post article
- see this Reuters article
- see this NYT article
- see this Ars Technica article

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