Trade body and ISP file first legal challenges against US net neutrality rules

A US broadband trade body and ISP Alamo have filed the first legal challenges to the FCC's recently approved net neutrality rules

US broadband trade body USTelecom and internet service provider Alamo Broadband have filed the first legal challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s recently approved net neutrality rules.

The principle of net neutrality dictates data packets on the internet should be moved impartially, without regard to content, destination or source.

In February 2015, the FCC adopted rules on internet governance under the Open Internet Order to support the open internet and protect freedom of expression and innovation.

However, broadband providers have raised objections to the reclassification of broadband internet access as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communication Act.

This means the internet will now be afforded the same protections that have historically ensured telephone networks remain open in the US.

The rules prevent broadband providers from blocking access to legal content; from selectively throttling traffic; and from offering to prioritise traffic for a fee.

Broadband providers who oppose net neutrality want to have the power to charge internet companies and users based on how much they use the underlying network infrastructure.

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FCC challenges swift out of the traps

They are unhappy the new rules give the FCC unprecedented power to regulate the internet.

Reacting to the ruling, Verizon Communication lashed out at the FCC, accusing it of imposing “1930s rules” on the internet.

The first of the many expected legal challenges came even before the FCC order had been published in the Federal Register.

USTelecom said in court documents that it was filing the review petition “out of an abundance of caution”, in case the10-day period for appeal is counted from 12 March when the FCC order was released.

The trade body – whose members include AT&T and Verizon Communications – said it was asking for a review of the order, which it said was “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion”.

Reclassification gives FCC authority

The regulation of broadband by the FCC as a utility – by invoking Title II of the Communications Act – is not legally sustainable, USTelecom President Walter McCormick said.

Alamo Broadband filed a similar petition in the in the US Court of Appeals, reportedly asking the court to set aside the FCC order and declare it illegal.

In 2010, the FCC adopted a set of rules that prohibited broadband providers from blocking or unreasonably discriminating against content providers or applications for network access, but this was overruled in January 2014 by the Columbia Circuit court in a lawsuit filed by Verizon.

The Columbia Circuit court said the FCC lacked the necessary authority. But by reclassifying broadband services as a telecommunications service, the FCC believes it has established that authority.

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