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Net neutrality suits dismissed; Verizon vows to revive complaint

Tue, 04/05/2011 - 8:20am
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

The U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit has dismissed two separate lawsuits from Verizon and MetroPCS over the FCC's net neutrality rules.

In a Monday ruling, the court ruled that the complaints had been filed prematurely, since the FCC has yet to publish the order in the Federal Register.

Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden says he was not surprised by the dismissal and vowed to file a second lawsuit when the regulations are published in the Federal Register.

"When we made our initial filing with the Court of Appeals, we noted the FCC's rules regarding the timing of an appeal were a little unclear, so we filed based on the release date of the net neutrality order to make sure our rights were protected," McFadden says. "We'll make a second filing when the order is published in the Federal Register."

The FCC's open Internet rules, which passed by a divided 3-2 vote in December, are not expected to be officially published until late May or early June at the earliest. Legal challenges to new FCC regulations typically happen within the 60 days after the rules are posted in the Federal Register, before they become law.

MetroPCS declined to comment on the dismissal of the suit.

The dismissal came as welcome news to the FCC and advocacy groups in favor of the agency's net neutrality agenda.

"We are pleased the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed with the Commission that Verizon and MetroPCS were premature in challenging the Open Internet framework," said FCC spokesman Robert Kenny.

Kenny did not provide comment on Verizon's pledge to file a new complaint once the regulations are published.

Harold Feld, legal director for Public Knowledge, said the group was pleased with the ruling, calling Verizon's challenge "untimely and distracting."

"Now we are confident the judicial system will deal with any and all appeals raised in an orderly and fair manner," Feld said.

The FCC's net neutrality regulations require all broadband Internet providers to disclose information about their network management practices and bar them from blocking lawful content.

Wireless operators were spared from some of the more stringent parts of the rules. The order forbids mobile broadband providers to block users from accessing lawful websites, subject to what the FCC calls "reasonable network management." The agency's rules also bar wireless operators from blocking applications that compete with the provider's voice or video telephony services, like mobile VoIP services such as Skype.

The regulations are currently going through a 60-day comment period, which ends April 10. From there, the FCC has to review the comments and send a paperwork reduction act application to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The OMB application will be open for comment for 30 days. Once the OMB clears the order's paperwork reduction act application, the regulations can then be published in the Federal Register.

Meanwhile, the White House is threatening a veto against a House Republican bill that would overturn new federal rules aimed at ensuring equitable access to the Internet. The House is slated to vote on Thursday on legislation to repeal network neutrality regulations.

The rules bar Internet providers, phone and cable companies from favoring or discriminating against Internet content and services, and require that broadband providers offer access to all legal content and applications.

Republicans say the rules amount to government interference and will discourage providers from upgrading their broadband services.

The White House said the GOP bill would undermine a fundamental part of the national strategy to keep the Internet free and open.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report

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