Net neutrality rules formally published; first legal challenge filed

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler speaks before voting on net neutrality regulations on Feb. 26. The rules were published in the Federal Register on Monday and a telecommunications industry trade group filed suit to stop them.

(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Tough new net neutrality regulations were published in the Federal Register on Monday, triggering an effective date of June 12 and the first formal legal challenge to the controversial online traffic rules.

US Telecom, a trade group whose members include AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., filed a lawsuit Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to stop the rules.

The Federal Communications Commission approved the regulations by a 3-2 vote on Feb. 26.

They change the legal classification of wired and wireless broadband, treating it as a more highly regulated telecommunications service in an attempt to ensure that providers don’t discriminate against any legal content flowing through their networks to consumers.


The 400-page order was made public two weeks after the vote as the FCC posted it on the agency’s website.

The order’s publication in the Federal Register, which generally takes a few weeks after new regulations are adopted, started a 60-day clock on its effective date -- unless a court blocks them.

But FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who pushed for the regulations, has been optimistic they would withstand a legal challenge.

“As Chairman Wheeler has said, we are confident the FCC’s new open Internet rules will be upheld by the courts, ensuring enforceable protections for consumers and innovators online,” agency spokeswoman Kim Hart said Monday.


Supporters of the rules, which prohibit Internet service providers from blocking, slowing or selling priority delivery of content to consumers, cheered the approaching effective date.

“The publication of the rules brings us one step closer to having the enforceable net neutrality protections that millions of Americans have called for,” said Matt Wood, policy director for Free Press, a digital rights group. “And yet phone and cable companies are still scheming to overturn these freedoms.”

The Federal Register publication meant the order formally could be challenged in court -- and it didn’t take long.

US Telecom filed suit, arguing the rules are “arbitrary and capricious” and violate federal law.

The group’s members support the goals of the regulations to ensure the free flow of legal online content, US Telecom President Walter McCormick said. The suit was filed because the more stringent government oversight that comes with broadband’s new regulatory classification will hinder investment in expanded networks and increase costs for users, he said.

“Reclassifying broadband Internet access as a public utility reverses decades of established legal precedent at the FCC and upheld by the Supreme Court,” McCormick said. “History has shown that common carrier regulation slows innovation, chills investment, and leads to increased costs on consumers.”

US Telecom filed a petition with the court last month as a placeholder for a lawsuit, seeking to preserve the right to sue. The group was concerned that the posting of the rules on the FCC website on March 12 might have triggered a 10-day period to challenge them.

A similar petition was filed Monday after the Federal Register publication, with more detailed arguments to be made in the coming weeks, said Jonathan Banks, US Telecom’s senior vice president for law and policy.


The group also is considering asking the court for a temporary stay in the rules until the case is decided, he said.

Banks expects other suits to be filed against the net neutrality rules in the next few days.

A similar petition was filed last month in the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans by Alamo Broadband Inc., a small Internet service provider based in Elmendorf, Texas. Alamo had not filed a new petition as of Monday afternoon.

Follow @JimPuzzanghera on Twitter


Get our weekly Business newsletter

A look back, and ahead, at the latest California business news.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.