FCC Sees First Major Net Neutrality Challenges With Two Lawsuits Accusing the Agency of Overstepping Its Boundaries

FCC net neutrality

It has been less than two weeks since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published its new net neutrality rules on its website, and two lawsuits slamming the new regulations have already surfaced, claiming that the agency overstepped its boundaries.

Supporters of net neutrality were warned not to start celebrating as soon as the FCC established its new set of net neutrality rules.

Many major telecommunications groups and corporate powers threatened to come after the agency if it tried to strip them of their power to regulate transmission speeds based on content and higher-priced plans.

The FCC barely got to sit back and admire its new legislation before USTelecom and Alamo Broadband followed up on that promise.

The trade group, which includes AT&T and Verizon, and the Texas-based broadband provider initiated separate filings in different districts of the U.S. Court of Appeals, requesting that the new regulations are not enforced because the FCC allegedly acted beyond its authority.

The suits slammed the FCC’s new set of rules as “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.”

“We do not believe the Federal Communications Commission’s move to utility-style regulation invoking Title II authority is legally sustainable,” USTelecom President Walter McCormick said in a statement, according to The Washington Post. “Therefore, we are filing a petition to protect our procedural rights in challenging the recently adopted open Internet order.”

Regardless of the new filings, the rules won’t go into effect until 60 days after they appear in the Federal Register.

The FCC has acknowledged the recent challenges, but the agency doesn’t seem too concerned that the filings will result in any major changes.

In a statement, the FCC called the petitions “premature and subject to dismissal.”

Just as one side of the legal battlefield is gearing up for war, however, so is the other.

An industry lobbyist that represents smaller telecom firms is ready to support the FCC’s move toward net neutrality.

“Our side does want an early challenge so that this administration will defend it, and [FCC Chairman Tom] Wheeler will defend it,” the lobbyist told The Washington Post. “The sooner the better.”

Other groups have stepped forward to emphasize the fact that the FCC has a strong case and also don’t believe the recent filings will be any real issue for the agency.

“These companies have threatened all along to sue over the FCC’s decision, even though that decision is supported by millions of people and absolutely essential for our economy,” Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, told The Washington Post. “Apparently, some of them couldn’t wait to make good on that threat.”

Both of the lawsuits also seem to acknowledge that their cases may not be as solid as each party hoped.

The documents noted that the filings were initiated “out of an abundance of caution” and acknowledged that the challenges might be premature.

These two challenges come after Tennessee already sued the FCC for blocking the state’s restrictions on city-run Internet services back in February.

As for consumers across the nation, however, net neutrality is a topic many have gotten excited about.

Some Internet users were shocked to even discover that their Internet service providers had the right to regulate the speed of their content based on how much they were paying or what they were doing online.

Wheeler said that’s exactly why the FCC is trying to snatch some of the power over the Web out of the hands of corporations.

“The Internet is too important to allow broadband providers to make the rules,” Wheeler said.

Net Neutrality Advocates Fight to Save Minority Voices Online, Take Aim at NAACP

Minorities push for net neutrality

There are many reasons why Internet companies and tech startups are pushing for tighter regulations on Internet service providers (ISPs), but for minorities in the U.S., the fight for net neutrality digs deep into the roots of the great technology divide.

Progressive groups have been prominent figures in the fight for net neutrality – the principle that ISPs should treat all content online equally without giving any favor to particular websites or advertisers.

The reason these groups have been up in arms over the lack of net neutrality protections is because without net neutrality, the barriers to entry for minority groups and startup companies become nearly impossible to scale.

Higher speeds will be granted to advertisers and websites who are able to pay more to ensure faster speeds for their content.

Meanwhile, other content online could be delivered at painfully slow speeds.

Now, advocates for net neutrality are taking aim at organizations like the NAACP and the National Urban League for their lack of support for net neutrality protections.

According to a 2009 study commissioned by Free Press and the Harmony Institute, a key factor in winning the fight for net neutrality protections is to “win over and mobilize liberal middle-class African-Americans and women,” Watchdog.org reports.

Now that the discussion has garnered much more attention over the past few years, people of color are coming together to demand stronger net neutrality protections in order to protect the presence of minority voices online.

“In recent years, support among people of color for strong net neutrality protections has continue to grow as the issue receives more attention and people realize what’s at stake,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org, during an interview with Watchdog.org.

The problem, Robinson pointed out, is that major groups like the NAACP have received major funding from telecom companies and that financial backing may be enough to stifle their voices when it comes to the net neutrality debate.

“Some civil rights organizations, which receive massive funding from telecom companies, used to openly advocate against net neutrality protections,” he said. “Now, they say they support net neutrality while doing everything they can to undermine it by attacking Title II reclassification, which courts have told the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is the only way for it to protect net neutrality.”

Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 would require the FCC to classify ISPs as common carriers, which would prohibit them from giving paid prioritization to certain content.

“Meanwhile, the civil rights organizations attacking Title II do not engage their constituents on this issue, preferring to make their case in beltway publications and filing to the FCC,” Robinson added.

Some tech entrepreneurs believe this is yet another case of major decisions being made in the technology space without considering the African-American community and other minorities.

The African-American community is currently severely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, which means there are not enough minorities in the tech space to help continue the push for net neutrality.

Without a commitment from major civil rights groups, it’s possible that minority voices will be muffled during discussions of net neutrality, which could eventually lead to those same voices fading away in the digital space.

In other words, despite the fact that recent studies revealed that African-Americans are some of the most prominent users of technology, they could continue to have the least amount of say in what happens with the future of the Internet.