FCC Chair: 'Big Dogs' Bound To Sue Over Neutrality Rules

Late last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said what some observers have long thought was obvious: New net neutrality rules will lead to another round of court challenges.

“Look, the big dogs are going to sue, regardless of what comes out,” Wheeler reportedly told journalists on Friday. “I want to move forward on open-internet rules with dispatch... I also want to have open internet rules that are sustained. And that’s the process we’re going through.”

Wheeler's remarks came the day after the FCC indicated that it wouldn't vote on neutrality rules until next year.

The decision came 10 days after President Barack Obama gave neutrality proponents a big boost in momentum by calling on the FCC to reclassify broadband as a utility. Doing so is seen as the first step toward subjecting Internet service providers to the same kinds of common carrier rules that require telephone companies to put through all calls.



Not surprisingly, Internet service providers are opposed to this idea. What's more, they're not above making threats in hopes of quashing the prospect of common-carrier regulations.

AT&T recently said it would halt the expansion of its fiber network. "We can't go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed," CEO Randall Stephenson said two weeks ago at an analyst conference, according to Reuters.

The FCC subsequently demanded that AT&T provide information about the current state of fiber deployment and how its plans had changed.

Verizon, meanwhile, suggested in October that it would sue if the FCC reclassifies broadband. That threat isn't empty, given that Verizon successfully sued to overturn the old neutrality rules, which the FCC passed in 2010.

Earlier this month, Verizon general counsel Randal Milch tried to publicly negotiate with the FCC by saying in a blog post that the company won't sue again over neutrality rules, provided the agency doesn't reclassify broadband service as a utility.

On Friday, he repeated that promise in an email to Wheeler.

But there are some fundamental problems with Verizon's statements.

First of all, Verizon isn't the only broadband provider; even if it doesn't challenge the FCC in court, the company can't guarantee what others will do. In fact, the ISP MetroPCS originally sued to overturn the FCC's 2010 neutrality rules. MetroPCS dropped its lawsuit after its 2013 acquisition by T-Mobile.

Additionally, company executives can always change their minds. A blog post, or even an email to the FCC, isn't necessarily the type of enforceable contract that will prevent Verizon from later going to court.

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