Advocacy group Free Press has filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, with the group arguing the new regulations are too weak.
The FCC's rules, approved by the commission last December, treat wireline and mobile broadband providers differently, but they shouldn't, said Free Press, a left-leaning media reform group. Free Press filed the lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, just days after the FCC published the rules in the Federal Register, the last step before they go into effect.
The regulations, sometimes called open Internet rules, bar wireline broadband providers from "unreasonable discrimination" against Web traffic, but don't have the same prohibition for mobile broadband providers. The rules prohibit mobile providers from blocking voice and other applications that compete with their services, but don't prohibit them from blocking other applications.
"When the FCC first proposed the open Internet rules, they came with the understanding that there is only one Internet, no matter how people choose to reach it," Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said in a statement. "The final rules provide some basic protections for consumers, but do not deliver on the promise to preserve openness for mobile Internet access. They fail to protect wireless users from discrimination, and they let mobile providers block innovative applications with impunity."
Free Press will fight to make the rules stronger, because there's no evidence in the FCC's record to justify this "arbitrary distinction" between wired and mobile broadband, Wood added. "The disparity that the FCC's rules create is unjust and unjustified," he said. "And it's especially problematic because of the increasing popularity of wireless, along with its increasing importance for younger demographics and diverse populations who rely on mobile devices as their primary means for getting online."
The net neutrality rules are good for the broadband industry, the FCC said in a statement,.
"We are pleased that, since its adoption, the commission's open Internet framework has brought certainty and predictability, stimulating increased innovation and investment across the broadband economy, including mobile networks and apps," the agency said. "We will vigorously oppose any effort to disrupt or unsettle that certainty, which ensures that the Internet remains an engine for job creation, innovation and economic growth."
Mobile broadband providers face bandwidth constraints that wireline providers do not, members of the FCC said when approving the rules. CTIA, a trade group representing mobile carriers, resurrected those arguments Wednesday.
"I don't know what Free Press is reading, but as the FCC noted during the proceeding, wireless is different," said Chris Guttman-McCabe, CTIA's vice president of regulatory affairs. "There is ample evidence on the record that proves this."
The FCC will likely see more challenges from companies on the other side of the net neutrality debate from Free Press.
Earlier this year, Verizon Communications and MetroPCS filed challenges to the rules, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected the lawsuits because the companies filed before the rules were published in the Federal Register. Verizon, which has said it plans to refile a lawsuit, has argued that the FCC does not have the authority to regulate broadband.
Free Press' lawsuit doesn't go far enough, because it doesn't seek to invalidate all the net neutrality rules, said Mike Wendy, director of MediaFreedom.org, an antiregulation advocacy group.
"The whole rule, based on an exceedingly small number of Net Neutrality 'violations,' and built upon wild conjecture that the Internet will come crashing down unless the FCC protects it -- contrary to the unregulated vibrancy of the marketplace -- is arbitrary and capricious," Wendy said in an email. "The entire net neutrality regulation should be tossed out. It is illegal. It is unjustified. It is unwanted by those who value free markets."
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is [email protected]