Lawsuits to strengthen Net traffic rules possible

Sat Apr 9, 2011 5:37pm EDT

* Public interest groups may challenge FCC Internet rules

* Would be hard case to make, net neutrality advocate says

By Jasmin Melvin

BOSTON, April 9 (Reuters) - Public interest groups are keeping the option of lawsuits against the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on the table to fight for stronger Internet "neutrality" rules, an executive at a public interest law firm said on Saturday.

So-called net neutrality rules adopted by the FCC in December would prevent network operators from blocking lawful content but still let them ration access to their networks.

Public interest groups criticized the rules, intended to preserve the openness of the Internet, saying they had been bent too heavily to the will of big industry players like AT&T Inc (T.N) and Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O).

"To go and say the FCC should have made stronger rules is something that my organization and others could be prepared to argue," said Matt Wood, associate director of the nonprofit public interest law firm Media Access Project.

Net neutrality advocates speaking at the National Conference for Media Reform, hosted by the public interest group Free Press, were not discouraged by lawmakers' attempts to overturn the rules this week.

House Republicans, in a 240-179 vote, pushed through a measure on Friday disapproving the FCC's rules. The resolution would overturn the order and prevent the FCC from adopting any rules related to it. [ID:nN08254117]

"It removes the FCC's jurisdiction in this space," Markham Erickson, an attorney and executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, said on Saturday at the conference.

A similar measure has been offered in the U.S. Senate and has 39 co-sponsors, but the White House said on Monday President Barack Obama's advisers would recommend he veto any such resolution.

MORE LEGAL CHALLENGES

Erickson doubted the measure would ever make it to the president's desk. "My sense is the vote in the Senate will be less of a substantive vote on net neutrality and more of a caucus vote on trying to keep the Democrats aligned as one party voting against this," he said.

He added the Senate would likely take up the measure toward the end of the summer or early fall and vote down the resolution to deter Republicans from making a habit of trying to repeal regulations.

"At its core, the debate about net neutrality is really the notion that users should decide what they want to see and do online," Free Press' policy counsel Aparna Sridhar said.

The Internet traffic rules -- aimed at ensuring consumer access to content such as huge movie files while letting Internet providers manage their networks to prevent congestion -- still face legal challenges.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted on Monday the FCC's motions to dismiss as premature lawsuits filed by Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) and MetroPCS Communications Inc PCS.N. [ID:nN04275870]

A spokesman for Verizon said the company plans to file a second lawsuit following the traditional process for overturning rulemakings, which requires rules to first be published in the Federal Register.

Wood predicted more lawsuits to come, challenging the substance of the rules as well as the FCC's statutory authority to implement them. He also said that while lawsuits from public interest groups are "very much on the table," it would not be an easy case to make.

"We're certainly looking at judicial avenues, but right now everybody's kind of in a holding pattern" until Federal Register publication, Wood said. (Reporting by Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Todd Eastham)

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