AT&T, telecom trade groups sue to stop FCC’s net neutrality rules

Net neutrality

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, center, joins hands with commissioners Mignon Clyburn, left, and Jessica Rosenworcel, before a Feb. 26 meeting at which the agency approved net neutrality regulations.

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

 AT&T Inc. and trade groups for cable and wireless companies filed lawsuits Tuesday to toss out new net neutrality regulations, adding to two legal challenges already pending.

The suits were filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where the U.S. Telecom Assn. trade group also filed suit Monday. A small Texas provider, Alamo Broadband Inc., sued last month in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

AT&T, which has been vocal about its opposition to the FCC’s approach to online traffic rules, became the first major broadband company to file suit.

Also on Tuesday, two cable industry trade groups and the major wireless trade group filed suits.


They are the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., which includes major players such as Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp.; the American Cable Assn., which represents about 850 small and medium-sized providers, and CTIA-The Wireless Assn., which includes AT&T, Verizon Communications Inc., Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc.

“The FCC went far beyond the public’s call for sound net neutrality rules,” said NCTA President Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman. “Instead, it took the opportunity to engineer for itself a central role in regulating and directing the evolution of the Internet.”

The suits are likely to be consolidated into one case against the FCC, which could take as long as three years to decide.

Powell urged Congress to pass pending legislation that would ensure net neutrality protections but without expanding the FCC’s regulatory authority over Internet service providers.


NCTA said it had hired two well-known lawyers to handle its suit — former U.S. Solicitor Gen. Theodore B. Olson and former assistant Solicitor Gen. Miguel A. Estrada.

“I believe we have a powerful and compelling case,” Olson said.

In February, the FCC voted 3 to 2 to classify wired and wireless broadband as a more highly regulated telecommunications service in an attempt to ensure that providers don’t discriminate against legal content flowing through their networks, the key concept of network neutrality.

The regulations, drafted by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and publicly urged by President Obama, prohibit broadband providers from blocking or slowing delivery of content to consumers or selling priority delivery.

Wheeler has said he’s optimistic the regulations will withstand legal challenges. But the D.C. court has thrown out two previous attempts by the FCC to craft net neutrality rules.

Alamo Broadband and U.S. Telecom, whose members include AT&T and Verizon, first filed petitions to sue after the FCC posted the 400-page net neutrality order on its website last month.

The so-called Open Internet order was published in the Federal Register on Monday, triggering an effective date of June 12 and opening what experts consider the formal window for legal challenges.

“The Open Internet order needlessly saddles ACA’s members -- half of which have 1,000 customers or fewer -- with the extraordinary burden of complying with a complicated new regulatory regime,” said American Cable Assn. President Matthew M. Polka.


Meredith Attwell Baker, president of CTIA and a former FCC commissioner, said the regulations “will only chill investment and innovation and increase costs for consumers.”

Twitter: @JimPuzzanghera

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