Verizon and AT&T Sue Over Net Neutrality
February was an historic month for internet users as the Federal Communications Commission ended a long battle with internet service providers over stricter internet regulation. According to the FCC, the newly passed rules will finally allow for net neutrality. This will deny service providers such as Comcast or Time Warner from discriminating what runs through their cables. The FCC adds that the new ruling will allow equal opportunity for internet speeds and access to websites for all customers.
Broadband companies retaliated and challenged the ruling, saying they had never blocked any website from their customers or charged anyone extra for access to "internet fast lanes". Now, the nation’s largest cable and internet providers have sued the government in order to block the new federal regulations from officially passing this summer.
The U.S. Telecom Association, an industry group comprised of AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink and numerous other smaller broadband providers, are now pushing back. Other small broadband companies such as Alamo Broadband, a telecom company based out of Texas, are following suit and filing similar lawsuits. On Monday, U.S. Telecom asked a federal appellate court in Washington to review the new rules that the group referred to in its court filings as "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of direction". The industry group also claims that the FCC is using long outdated anti-monopoly rules dating back to 1934 in order to establish a foothold for its net neutrality rules. Telecom companies fear that if these new rules were legislated in their entirety, the FCC would gain complete and total control over the Internet. The FCC has promised to use only a portion of its newly found authority to regulate the internet, but internet providers aren't buying it and fear over-regulation of the internet.
Under the FCC’s new ruling, your phone carrier would be unable to block tethering apps that allow you to turn your phone into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot. Verizon tried to block such apps in 2012 and had previously tried to block access to the Google Wallet app on their smartphones in 2010. Other companies, such as Comcast, would no longer be able to slow down traffic to certain websites as they attempted to do with file-sharing website BitTorrent in 2007. Telecom providers have long held onto the argument that, as private companies that built and laid the inroads to the internet superhighway, they have every right to charge tolls and control traffic as needed in order to provide the best possible product to the customer.
If this scenario feels familiar to some, one only has to look back to 2010 when the FCC last tried to implement its new net neutrality rules. Verizon sued to block the ruling then and eventually won the case in appellate court. It’s possible that this new legal battle will similarly play out for years, though Jennifer Bagg, a Washington telecom lawyer, says this lawsuit will fail on the grounds that it was filed too early. The new FCC rulings haven’t even been set in stone and have yet to make their way into the federal register where they would eventually be made official. FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield agrees and adds that these lawsuits are "premature and subject to dismissal".
Suing the Federal Trade Commission isn't the only thing telecom companies are threatening however. Some individual internet service providers have stated they will stop upgrading their networks and expanding their cable systems if the FCC pass their new rules and take control of the internet. Finance experts question their logic though, especially as Comcast has long desired to merge with Time Warner Cable in a megadeal currently under review by the FCC.
There's no clear finish to the ongoing struggle over net neutrality ahead as the ruling will likely continue to be fought in court for some time. Even if this particular case is thrown out, the telecom providers could sue again or a judge could put the rulings on hold. There’s a long road ahead as the FCC and internet service providers struggle over control over the internet and the flow of information over the cables.