Federal Appeals Court Rejects Attempts to Stall FCC ‘Net Neutrality’ Rules

Decision a big defeat for telecom companies

Net neutrality will become the law of the land on June 12. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Thursday rejected telecom providers’ pleas to delay the FCC’s net neutrality order.

In a two-page order, the court said the stay request was denied because “Petitioners have not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review.”

The court, while not approving any delay in the order taking effect approved an expedited briefing schedule for deciding whether the FCC went too far in its order.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Thursday called the decision a major win.

“This is a huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators! Starting Friday, there will be a referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair and open,” Wheeler said. “Blocking, throttling, pay-for-priority fast lanes and other efforts to come between consumers and the Internet are now things of the past. The rules also give broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks.”

Internet service providers and some mobile providers have challenged the FCC’s net neutrality action as an attempt to assert “unprecedented regulatory power over the Internet,” a “breathtaking” “about-face.”

While the appeals court considers that challenge, US Telecom, the National Cable and Telecommunications Associations, the CTIA, AT&T, the American Cable Association, Centurylink and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association all asked the court to delay the rules from taking effect.

The groups contend they aren’t trying to prevent the FCC from enforcing net neutrality, but instead to prevent the agency from using its authority to regulate telephone lines to also regulate Internet connections.

In requesting the delay, all the business groups contended that the FCC’s action would create irreparable harm while a delay would have little impact.

In a statement on Thursday, USTelecom President & CEO Walter B. McCormick Jr said while the group was disappointed, the court’s decision to grant expedited briefing shows the gravity of the issues at stake and will facilitate a quicker path to determining the proper legal treatment for regulating broadband Internet access service.

Consumer groups and congressional supporters of net neutrality on Thursday praised the decision.

“The D.C. Circuit made the right call, thwarting this latest attempt to strip Internet users of the protections they deserve,” Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said. “The Court recognized what we have long known: The FCC’s Open Internet framework poses no threat to broadband providers’ business interests.”

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., ranking member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said the result is welcome.

“On June 12 millions of Americans will receive what they’ve long asked for: effective, enforceable net neutrality protections to keep the Internet free and open,” Eshoo said. “The Court’s decision today is a critical validation that the new rules to protect an open Internet are grounded in strong legal footings and can endure future challenges by broadband providers. Millions of consumers, entrepreneurs, innovators and others stand by this and today the Court agreed with them.”

Meredith Attwell Baker, president-CEO of CTIA-The Wireless Association, said the decision not to delay the rule was disappointing but noted the court’s willingness to move forward quickly to resolve the issues raised by the challengers’ claims that the FCC had overreached.

“Today’s decision by the court to expedite the case is good news, demonstrating the seriousness of the FCC’s complete and sudden reversal of decades of bipartisan policy,” Baker said. “While the stay decision is disappointing and a loss for consumers, securing a judicial stay is always a challenge given the extremely high standards. This case is just beginning and the stakes are high.

“The wireless industry seeks to restore [an] approach so consumers can benefit from competition and innovation, rather than suffer the harmful consequences of the FCC’s overreach that would imperil new services and inhibit investment,” she said.