FCC Publishes Final Net Neutrality Rule; Lawsuits to Follow

On April 13, 2015, the FCC published its final Open Internet Order governing net neutrality in the Federal Register.  The rule will become effective on June 12, 2015, 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

ARL applauded the FCC’s vote in February to reclassify broadband Internet as a common carrier under Title II, ensuring that the Internet cannot be divided into “fast lanes” and “slow lanes,” while also retaining its Section 706 authority.  The rule bans blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.  It also prohibits unreasonable interference or unreasonably disadvantaging of an end user’s ability to select and access lawful content, applications and services, or an edge provider’s ability to make such content and services available to end users, subject to reasonable network management.

Now that the final Order has been published, a 10-day clock is triggered for legal challenges to the new rules.  While two lawsuits have already been filed, they may be considered premature because they were filed before publication in the Federal Register.  It is expected that the plaintiffs in those cases will refile, along with other lawsuits.  These lawsuits will likely be consolidated and a Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation could determine, by lottery, which Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case.

In addition to these lawsuits, Congress may attempt to overturn the order through the Congressional Review Act which allows Congress to overturn an agency regulation by a majority vote in both houses of Congress within 60 days.  However, even if Congress did overturn the FCC’s Open Internet Order, the President must sign it, or Congress must overrule a veto with a two-thirds majority.  Given President Obama’s strong support for net neutrality, including for reclassification, it seems unlikely that the FCC’s Open Internet Order would be overturned in this way.

Congress might also consider overruling the FCC’s decision through legislation.  Indeed, in January 2015, a discussion draft bill was released to create a new Title X to the Communications Act to specifically deal with broadband providers.  While the draft bill would ban paid prioritization there are several concerns regarding the discussion draft, discussed in this previous blog post.

 

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