Free Press Sues FCC to Get Real About Net Neutrality

Media reform group Free Press has filed a lawsuit against the FCC following the official publication and impending implementation of the commission’s Net neutrality rules.

Network neutrality is the principle that there should be no restrictions imposed by governments or Internet service providers on consumers’ access to the Internet.

While Free Press supports the spirit of the FCC’s rules, it takes issue with the fact that they don’t apply equally to landline and wireless broadband.

“The rules that the FCC adopted do apply to wireless already, but those wireless protections are weaker than the protections applied to wired connections,” Matthew Wood, Free Press’s policy director, told the E-Commerce Times.

“We likely would seek to have the reviewing court send the rules back to the FCC to strengthen them,” Wood added.

That doesn’t sit well with CTIA — The Wireless Association, an international nonprofit organization that represents the wireless communications industry.

“I don’t know what Free Press is reading, but as the FCC noted during the proceedings, wireless is different,” Chris Guttman-McCabe, CTIA’s vice president of regulatory affairs, told the E-Commerce Times. “There is ample evidence on the record that proves this.”

Free Press’s Filing

Free Press filed its suit in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston.

It wants the court to review the December 2010 decision regarding the FCC adopting Net neutrality rules.

Free Press contends the decision violates the Communications Act of 1934, or possibly other statutes, and is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and otherwise contrary to law.

It asks the court to “hold unlawful and set aside, vacate or enjoin such aspects of [the Net neutrality rules] as necessary, remand the petition to the FCC for further proceedings, and order any such other relief as the Court may find proper.”

Could asking the court to set aside, vacate or enjoin the rules be equivalent to Free Press cutting off its nose to spite its face?

“This language is more or less legal boilerplate,” Free Press’s Wood explained. “We do not seek to have the rules tossed out, but made better.”

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend?

However, Free Press’s move may play into the hands of opponents of the FCC’s Net neutrality rules, of which there are many.

More than 100,000 individuals, organizations and companies responded to the FCC’s call for input, the FCC stated in its summary of the Net neutrality rules.

That included strong opposition from broadband industry members. In fact, Verizon and MetroPCS filed suits challenging the FCC’s authority to enact the rules, but their action was thrown out by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in April as premature — the rules had not yet been published in the Federal Register or enacted.

Verizon, at least, is in a sticky position — it supplies both landline broadband and, through Verizon Wireless, over-the-air broadband, which could see the company fighting itself, as it were.

Verizon spokesperson Edward S. Mcfadden declined comment when approached by the E-Commerce Times.

A political battle could be brewing over the Net neutrality rules.

Long-time Net neutrality foe Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, has already issued a statement criticizing Net neutrality.

The Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed Joint Resolution 37 in April expressing disapproval of the rules.

There’s likely going to be a battle in the Senate, and the White House has said presidential advisers would recommend the president veto any resolution against the Net neutrality rules that made it to his desk.

Onward, Net Neutrality Soldiers

However, supporters of the Net neutrality rules have been as vocal as their opponents.

Public Knowledge Cofounder and President Gigi Sohn has issued a statement in support of the rules.

The rules could have been stronger, she acknowledges, but she maintains they are a good start and pledges to defend them in court and before Congress.

The FCC will also go to bat for their rules.

“We are pleased that, since its adoption, the commission’s open Internet framework has brought certainty and predictability, stimulating increased innovation and investment across the broadband economy, including mobile networks and apps,” FCC spokesperson Neil Grace told the E-Commerce Times. “We will vigorously oppose any effort to disrupt or unsettle that certainty, which ensures that the Internet remains an engine for job creation, innovation and economic growth.”

The Net neutrality rules are scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 20.

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