Court Rejects FCC Request To Postpone Net Neutrality Hearing

Arguments about the legality of the net neutrality repeal will move forward as scheduled, despite the ongoing government shutdown, a federal court said late Thursday.

The Federal Communications Commission had asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to postpone the argument from the previously announced date of February 1. But the three-judge panel slated to decide the case -- Circuit Judges Patricia Ann Millett, Robert Wilkins and Senior Judge Stephen Williams -- rejected that request late Thursday. The judges didn't give a reason for their decision.

The upcoming court battle centers on the FCC's December 2017 decision to revoke the Obama-era net neutrality rules, which classified broadband as a utility service and imposed some common carrier regulations on providers -- including prohibitions on blocking or throttling traffic, and on charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery.

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the prior regulations were "heavy handed" and depressed investment. But net neutrality proponents counter that the rules are necessary to prevent broadband providers from engaging in censorship, and from harming competitors.

A host of advocacy groups, tech companies and lobbying organizations are now challenging the FCC's move in court. The groups argue that the FCC's decision to repeal the rules went against agency policies that date back to 2005 and culminated in the Obama-era regulations.

The FCC said in papers filed earlier this week that it was asking for a postponement in order “to ensure that attorneys may fully prepare for argument.”

The grade group Incompas -- which counts Google, Netflix and Amazon among its members -- opposed the FCC's request. The organization argued that the the revocation poses a risk to consumers as well as the so-called “edge providers” -- meaning companies that offer over-the-top video or other web-based services.

“There is a need for a timely decision in this important matter,” Incompas wrote in papers filed this week. “Due to the FCC’s misguided and unlawful repeal of the network neutrality rules, consumers are at risk of substantial harm from Internet Service Providers ... which may now interfere with access to lawful Internet content without the restraint of the net neutrality rules. The repeal of the rules also threatens edge providers, as they are facing the risk of blocking, throttling, and other practices by ISPs, which may have services competing with edge provider services.”

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