FCC Publishes Net Neutrality Rules, Likely Sparking Fresh Lawsuits

The FCC will publish its net neutrality rules for wireless and wired networks today in the Federal Register, likely giving wireless carriers another opportunity to sue and block the rules, which are scheduled to take effect Nov. 20.

A federal appeals court in April tossed out lawsuits by Verizon Communications (NYS: VZ) and MetroPCS (NAS: PCS) that challenged the rules, arguing that the suits were filed too soon since the rules were not yet published. The process of publishing the rules was drawn out for months over compliance with federal paperwork regulations.

Verizon has indicated it intends to refile its lawsuit. A MetroPCS spokesman declined to comment on the company's next legal maneuvers. congressional Republicans, who have adamantly opposed the rules, could also ratchet back up legislation to block the rules.

The rules were first passed on a party-line 3-2 vote in December 2010 after months of contentious debate. It has taken so long for the rules to be published that one of the commissioners who voted against the rules, Meredith Attwell Baker, is no longer with the FCC and now works for Comcast. Opponents of the rules said the FCC did not have the authority to impose them. Some supporters of net neutrality -- particularly those at public interest groups -- urged the FCC to enact stricter rules and reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service to give it more authority, which the commission did not do.

Under the FCC's rules, wireless carriers are barred from blocking services such as Google Voice and Skype that compete with their own voice and video offerings, as well as those in which they have an attributable interest. However, wireless carriers would not face the same restrictions wired operators will on blocking Web traffic and other applications -- a ban on unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic.

Wireless carriers also face transparency requirements on network management policies and a basic "no blocking" rule on lawful content and applications. The no-blocking rule won't generally apply to carriers engaged in the operations of application storefronts. The rules do allow for reasonable network management, which is defined as actions that are "appropriate and tailored to a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account network architecture."

Both Verizon and MetroPCS argued that the FCC does not have the authority to enact the new rules. The companies also said the agency's rules retroactively modified their wireless spectrum licenses in ways that did not exist when the licenses were granted.

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Related articles:
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Court tosses out Verizon, MetroPCS net neutrality suits on technicality
House Republicans challenge FCC's net neutrality rules

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