Verizon Says Net Neutrality Rules Violate 1st And 5th Amendment Rights
July 4, 2012

Verizon Says Net Neutrality Rules Violate 1st And 5th Amendment Rights

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Verizon is challenging the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Net neutrality rules, saying they violate its First Amendment right to free speech.

The company filed its first brief on Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, calling the FCC's rules arbitrary, capricious and unconstitutional.

The carrier argues that the Net neutrality regulations violate its Fifth Amendment property rights as well.

In its 116-page filing to the court, Verizon said the rules "impose dramatic new restrictions on broadband Internet access services providers,” and attempt to "control all aspects of broadband Internet access service."

The FCC enacted its Net neutrality rules in December 2010, saying the regulations would help protect broadband users from having their service providers slow or block certain content.

Verizon had initially sued the agency in January 2011, saying the FCC had overstepped its bounds in setting the rules, and asking the court to strike them down.

"We believe this assertion of authority goes well beyond any authority provided by Congress, and creates uncertainty for the communications industry, innovators, investors and consumers,” said Michael Glover, Verizon´s senior vice president and deputy general counsel, in a statement at the time the original lawsuit was brought.

The case was ultimately thrown out three months later on a technicality.

FCC rules are not official, and therefore open to legal challenge, until they are published in the Federal Register.  That did not happen until September 2011, at which time Verizon — along with prepaid wireless provider MetroPCS — filed an appeal to its case, asking the court to overturn the FCC´s Net neutrality rules.

The FCC has until September to file a reply with the court.

Net neutrality rules operate on the principle of equal access to the Web. Those who support such rules argue they are needed because broadband providers, many of whom also offer their own video services, might favor their own content and services over that of rivals.

For instance, Net neutrality supporters fear that companies like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and other large broadband providers might slow network traffic from rival content providers such as Netflix, giving an unfair advantage to the network providers.

Net neutrality proponents also say the rules would help prevent large companies from paying more to have their websites load faster — something smaller rivals could not afford to do.

However, those opposing Net neutrality argue that broadband providers have an incentive to ensure quality delivery of all content to consumers, and that it would only harm their business if they delivered slow or sub-par service to customers.

The Net neutrality rules approved by the FCC give the commission the authority to step into disputes about how broadband providers manage their networks, and to launch investigations if they believe providers are violating the rules.

Although major Internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast agreed to keep to these principles, they argued that it was Congress, not the FCC, who held authority to regulate the Internet. The FCC disagreed, referencing various laws to prove it held the proper authority. But Verizon pushed back this week, calling the commission´s justification a "hodgepodge of provisions" pulled from the 1934 Communications Act.

"None of these provisions remotely suggests that Congress ever intended to empower the agency with such vast authority over the Internet," Verizon said.

The Net neutrality rules are a "systematic problem in search of a solution" that violate the First Amendment by depriving Internet service providers of "control over the transmission of speech on their networks," Verizon said.

The D.C. Court of Appeals hearing Verizon's lawsuit against the FCC is the same court that ruled against the federal agency when it tried to enforce what were at the time merely Net neutrality "principles." Following that ruling, the FCC shifted away from voluntary principles and adopted the official regulations that Verizon is currently suing over.

Separately, the liberal consumer advocacy group Free Press has dropped its lawsuit against the FCC over Net neutrality, The Hill reported on Tuesday.

The group had sued the commission for entirely different reasons than did Verizon and MetroPCS, saying the rules did not go far enough since they exclude wireless companies.

The wireless industry had argued at the time the rules were adopted that since wireless was still a growing industry, it would be harmed if it were subject to the FCC's full Net neutrality rules.

After nearly year of squabbling, the FCC announced last year that the wireless industry would only be subject to the portion of the rules relating to transparency.