A federal appellate court this week refused to delay a lawsuit challenging the Net neutrality regulations that went into effect last November.
The decision means that the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit could rule as soon as this year whether to vacate the Federal Communications Commission's open Internet order, which the agency approved by a 3-2 vote.
The neutrality order prohibits wireline providers from blocking or degrading traffic or otherwise engaging in unreasonable discrimination. The order also prohibits wireless providers from blocking sites or some competing applications, such as Skype, but doesn't stop wireless carriers from giving preferential treatment to companies that pay extra.
Last year, Verizon and MetroPCS mounted a legal challenge to the net neutrality regulations. The telecoms argue that the FCC lacks authority to regulate broadband, and are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to vacate the regulations.
The FCC recently argued that the case should be held in abeyance while it considers possible clarifications of the neutrality order. The appellate court rejected that request without explanation this week.
The decision "clears the way for the court to establish an Open Internet case briefing schedule this spring and set oral argument, probably in the fall, giving Verizon and Metro PCS their day in court," research company Stifel Nicolaus said Friday in an industry update. "A ruling could come next winter," Stifel predicted.
The same court that is presiding over the challenge filed by Verizon and MetroPCS already ruled in a separate case that the FCC has no authority to enforce neutrality regulations. In that matter, the court vacated an FCC ruling imposing sanctions on Comcast for throttling peer-to-peer traffic.
The appeals court said the agency couldn't enforce neutrality principles because it had previously classified broadband as an "information" service rather than a telecommunications service.