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ISP lawsuit: Net neutrality rules aren't strong enough

The nonprofit ISP says the same rules should apply for mobile broadband as for wireline

A North Carolina ISP has filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, with the ISP arguing the regulations aren't strong enough for wireless and mobile broadband providers like itself.

The net neutrality rules, passed by the FCC in December, create stronger net neutrality rules for landline broadband providers than for mobile broadband providers, said the lawsuit, filed earlier this week by the Mountain Area Informational Network (MAIN), a nonprofit based in Asheville, North Carolina. MAIN, which serves parts of western North Carolina through Wi-Fi and other wireless broadband services, would be treated as a mobile broadband provider under the FCC's rules.

MAIN's lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, is similar to one filed by advocacy group Free Press Wednesday in Boston. The two lawsuits are comparable, "except ours is specific to the challenges we face in a predominantly rural and mountainous region," said Wally Bowen, MAIN's founder and executive director.

The FCC's rules are unenforceable and will not protect consumers' Internet freedoms, Bowen said Friday, the day MAIN announced the lawsuit. The ISP's lawsuit asks the court to overturn the FCC's so-called open Internet rules and force the agency to revisit the regulations.

"Our goal is to have the FCC strengthen these open Internet rules to make them meaningful and enforceable in order to preserve the Internet as an open platform for grassroots innovation," Bowen said. "We really want our grassroots innovators to have a level playing field and an open canvas to work with."

The regulations 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.

The FCC's rules give mobile broadband providers more power to dictate what users can do on the Internet, Bowen said. "Granting more power to wireless network owners reduces mobile access to a second-class service, discriminates against low-income users who rely on mobile devices, and disadvantages rural areas where wireless is often the only broadband access available," he said.

The FCC has argued that the net neutrality rules give providers certainty about the rules of the road. The agency will "vigorously oppose" any efforts to overturn the rules, the agency said in a statement this week. The FCC published the net neutrality rules in the Federal Register on Sept. 23, with publication opening the door for groups to file lawsuits.

The FCC is likely to face additional lawsuits from other ISPs that want to overturn the rules completely. 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.

MAIN is represented by the Media Access Project, a public interest law firm based in Washington, D.C.

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]


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