US FCC faces lawsuits against proposed net neutrality order

Trade group USTelecom and provider Alamo Broadband have filed the suits

U.S. broadband industry trade body USTelecom and Internet provider Alamo Broadband filed Monday lawsuits against a controversial U.S. Federal Communications Commission proposal to reclassify broadband providers, which could be the harbinger of similar lawsuits from Internet companies.

The FCC voted by 3-2 in February to approve new net neutrality rules that would help ensure the uninhibited flow of Internet traffic. It aims to reclassify broadband as a regulated public utility, thus prohibiting providers from selectively blocking or throttling or offering paid prioritization of traffic.

The new rules aim to regulate both wireless and wireline Internet services on the lines of traditional telephone companies, which are required to deliver service at "just and reasonable" rates and interconnect with each other. Small broadband providers will, however, be exempted from some of the new rules temporarily.

The FCC order has not yet been posted to the Federal Register, the daily journal of the U.S. government. But USTelecom (United States Telecom Association) said it was filing the review petition "out of an abundance of caution" to meet the 10-day period provided for an appeal, just in case the FCC order or its declaratory ruling part is treated as final after its release on March 12, the organization said in a filing Monday to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

USTelecom said that if the court decides that the "trigger date" is 10 days after publication in the Federal Register, the trade body will file an appeal at that time. The FCC said in its March 12 release that its order would become effective 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

The trade body, whose members include AT&T and Verizon Communications, said it was asking for a review of the order as it was "arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion." The regulation of broadband by the FCC as an utility, by invoking Title II of the Communications Act, is not legally sustainable, USTelecom President Walter McCormick said in a statement.

"Our member companies conduct their business in conformance with the open Internet principles," he added.

The FCC could not be immediately reached for comment.

Alamo filed a similar petition in the in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Elmendorf, Texas, provider has asked the court to set aside the FCC order and declare it illegal, according to a copy of the filing obtained by The Washington Post.

The FCC adopted in 2010 the Open Internet Order, which prohibited broadband providers from blocking or unreasonably discriminating against content providers or applications for network access, but this was largely overruled in January last year by the Columbia Circuit court in a lawsuit filed by Verizon.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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