Groups Back Telecoms In Fight Against Neutrality Rules


Neutrality regulations could hurt manufacturers by discouraging investment in new broadband networks, the National Association of Manufacturers says in papers filed this week with an appeals court in Washington.

The business group makes the argument in a friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of Verizon and MetroPCS, which are challenging the FCC's neutrality rules in court. The manufacturers' association argues that the FCC wrongly discounted "voluminous" evidence that neutrality rules "would inhibit investment and deployment."

The neutrality rules ban all broadband providers -- wireline as well as wireless -- from blocking sites or competing applications. The regulations also prohibit wireline providers from engaging in unreasonable discrimination. The FCC passed the regulations by a 3-2 vote in December of 2010, but they didn't take effect until last year.

Verizon and MetroPCS have asked the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to vacate the rules on the grounds that the FCC lacked authority to promulgate them.

The manufacturers' organization, which previously lobbied the FCC to avoid enacting neutrality rules, says it agrees with the telecoms on that point.

The NAM isn't the only outside organization weighing in against neutrality rules.



The libertarian organizations TechFreedom, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Free State Foundation and the Cato Institute also asked the appellate court to vacate the rules. They argue that the regulations violate telecoms' free speech rights by "forcing Internet service providers to post, send, and allow access to nearly all types of content, even if a broadband provider prefers not to transmit such content."

TechFreedom and the other groups add that order also is invalid because it applies only to broadband providers, and not to other types of service providers -- like mobile platform companies. "Apple could continue to exercise editorial discretion in deciding which applications it will allow iPhone and iPad users to access," the groups argue.

A coalition of states led by Virginia also filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the appeals court to vacate the rules. They say the FCC's order violates the states' policy "in favor of property rights and free markets." Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia joined in that brief.

Open Internet advocacy group Free Press said it disagrees with the groups that filed papers this week. Matt Wood, policy director for Free Press, took issue with the libertarians' arguments that the rules violate telecoms' First Amendment rights.

He argues that the telecoms have the same free speech rights as anyone else when it comes to creating marketing materials, or posting content on their Web sites. But Wood adds that the neutrality rules only affect carriers in their capacity as intermediaries, not speakers. "The argument here -- that when these companies transmit your speech and mine they are 'speaking' -- is not a very convincing one," he says.

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