Verizon Takes FCC to Court Over New Web Rules

Get ready. It's gonna be a long year in the battle to keep the Internet free from corporate takeovers.

By Jamilah King Jan 21, 2011

The lawsuits are finally here. Just weeks after the FCC passed net neutrality rules that were riddled with loopholes, Verizon has filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the order. The rules, which were supposed to protect the openness of the Internet, are being challenged in the same court that overruled the commission’s authority last year.

It’s just the first in what’s anticipated to be a series of lawsuits challenging the FCC’s authority. That authority was initially challenged last April, when a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the commission wasn’t legally allowed to regulate broadband in the first place. The remedy seemed simple. All the commission had to do was undo years of Bush-era anti-regulatory precedent and vote to reclassify broadband as a Title 2 communications service.

But of course, that didn’t happen. The FCC instead passed rules that left a series of gaping holes just waiting for telecom companies to exploit. Metro PCS, the nation’s fifth largest mobile service provider, has already begun to challenge the commission’s framework on reasonable network management. And now Verizon, the very company whose "suggested legislative framework" with Google caused a ruckus last summer and was basically adopted verbatim by the FCC in the first place, is challenging the commission over the heart of the matter.

"Verizon’s decision demonstrates that even the most weak and watered-down rules aren’t enough to appease giant phone companies," Aparna Sridhar, policy counsel for Free Press, said in a statement. "It’s ironic that Verizon is unhappy with rules that were written to placate it, and it’s now clear that it will settle for nothing less than total deregulation and a toothless FCC in the relentless pursuit of profit."

Nate Anderson at Ars Technica gives an instructive breakdown on how Verizon got pretty much what it wanted out of the FCC’s legislative framework. But by its own admission, the company’s real problem has to do with the commission’s rulemaking authority altogether.

"We are deeply concerned by the FCC’s assertion of broad authority for sweeping new regulation of broadband networks and the Internet itself," Michael Glover, Verizon’s lawyer, said in a statement according to Politico. "We believe this assertion of authority goes well beyond any authority provided by Congress, and creates uncertainty for the communications industry, innovators, investors and consumers."

Verizon believes that Congress, not the FCC, should have the ultimate decision. And not because Congress necessarily is a fairer legislative alternative. But, as Anderson points out, because it’s painstakingly slow:

When Congress addresses an issue, it doesn’t muck about with it again for quite some time–just look at something like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. Regulatory agencies can operate at a slightly less glacial pace, and the extra uncertainty this can create might be bad for investment. So now Verizon will duke it out in court with an agency that lost a similar battle in 2010–even though, on substance, it got exactly what it wanted.