Out of court, Net Neutrality becomes political football in Congress

Court delays lawsuit; House, White House square off on right to regulate

A U.S. District Court that could have struck down the FCC's Net Neutrality rules has declined to hear the lawsuit filed by Verizon and MetroPCS, at least for a while.

The D.C. district court, which has sided with carriers on other cases focused on consumer protection, didn't come down on the side of Internet users.

It just delayed the case because it agreed with the FCC that it's too early for carriers to challenge the rules because they have not yet gone into effect.

FCC regulations have to be published in the Federal Register before they formally go into effect; so far, the FCC's haven't been.

The carriers are challenging the FCC's right to regulate the wired and wireless Internet, partly on the grounds that the rules are retroactive because they were created after Verizon and MetroPCS bid on the wireless spectrum the Net Neutrality rules barely touch.

The regs mainly focused on the wired Internet, forbidding carriers from throttling, degrading or blocking content from competitors, but giving them carte blanche to make any changes necessary for a reasonable degree of network management. Which almost certainly means blocking, throttling or degrading streaming video, audio and other high-bandwidth content coming across their networks from competing companies.

MetroPCS has already published a data plan that blocks online video streaming from every source except YouTube, and all VoIP traffic – which competes with its main business.

Congress isn't letting the issue rest there, though.

Republicans in the House don't like the idea that the federal government can regulate the Internet or telecommunications infrastructure for which it helped pay and on which their constituencies depend.

The House scheduled a vote for today on a bill repealing the FCC's Net Neutrality rules because, they argue, the rules will discourage phone and cable companies from spending money on network upgrades by preventing them from offering higher-cost, higher-quality services for those willing to pay as well as basic services for those who aren't. Here's the bill.

A backup effort, an amendment to a large spending bill, forbids the FCC from spending any federal money to enforce the rules.

Democrats in the Senate are likely to block both efforts; if not, the Obama administration has promised to veto the rollback.

In a press release Monday, White House officials described Net Neutrality rules as "an enforceable and effective policy for keeping the Internet free and open."

Blocking the rules would "raise questions as to whether innovation on the Internet will be allowed to flourish, consumers will be protected from abuses, and the democratic spirit of the Internet will remain intact,

The FCC will still have to defend the rules in court, if and when it ever gets the rules published in the Federal Register.

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