WASHINGTON The legal fight over the U.S. government's new Internet traffic rules will likely drag into next year, according to a proposed court schedule.
The Federal Communications Commission in 2010 adopted "net neutrality" rules that forbid broadband providers from blocking access to lawful content, while leaving flexibility for providers to manage their networks. For example, while other rules block access to child pornography, the "net neutrality" rules do not allow blockage of material the provider may oppose for political or other reasons.
The rules were seen as a compromise but still upset both industry players and public interest groups, which have in turn filed suits challenging the rules.
Counsel for the numerous parties entangled in the fight over the rules proposed a schedule with the court on May 25 that sets November 21 as the deadline for final briefs.
If the briefing schedule is accepted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, oral arguments will likely not be scheduled until next year.
Medley Global Advisors analyst Jeffrey Silva said the debate over regulations to mandate the neutrality of the Internet - in terms of restrictions on content, sites, platforms and types of equipment that may be attached - has been fierce and will only heat up once the challenges reach the courtroom.
"It's been dormant for a while but you can see little indications that it's going to pick up steam down the road," Silva said.
Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) filed suit last September, asking the D.C. appeals court to have the rules thrown out. It said the FCC was "arbitrary" and "capricious" and acted beyond its statutory authority in imposing the rules.
Public interest groups, meanwhile, have criticized the rules as too weak, saying the FCC was swayed by big industry players, including AT&T Inc (T.N) and Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O).
Free Press, a public interest group, also filed suit in September in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, challenging provisions in the order that give wireless broadband providers more discretion in managing their networks.
These and other cases have been consolidated before the D.C. appeals court.
The FCC has repeatedly expressed confidence in the legal foundation backing its "Open Internet" order, which took effect November 20, 2011.
The FCC on Tuesday unveiled the members of a net-neutrality oversight panel that will monitor the impact of the rules and make recommendations on preserving the openness of the Internet.
Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain will chair the committee, while David Clark, a research specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will serve as vice chair.
Netflix, Comcast, AT&T and Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) are among the companies represented on the advisory panel, as well as advocacy groups such as the Internet Society and National Urban League.
The case is Verizon v. FCC, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, case No. 11-1355 (and consolidated cases).
(Reporting By Jasmin Melvin)