The first legal challenges to federal Internet competition regulations came on Monday, just 72 hours after the rules were officially published in the Federal Register, according to court documents.
Free Press, a national media reform group, announced on Wednesday that it was taking the Federal Communications Commission to court over the so-called net neutrality rules, which are designed to prevent companies from blocking or hindering Internet access.
That was the first publicized lawsuit, but the D.C.-based Media Access Project confirmed to National Journal on Thursday that it has filed lawsuits in at least three different courts on behalf of two media groups and a nonprofit Internet service provider in North Carolina.
So far this week, at least four groups have sued the FCC. All of them—Free Press, Media Mobilizing Project, Access Humboldt, and Mountain Area Information Network—filed motions earlier this year to intervene in Verizon’s challenge, which was thrown out on a technicality.
Access Humboldt also announced its suit on Wednesday while the other two have not been publicized.
Mountain Area Information Network, a North Carolina ISP, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va.
“We’ve been around for a while, and we’d like to be around for a while more,” MAIN executive director Wally Bowen told National Journal. He said the rules don’t go far enough to prevent large companies from leveraging their power over users and smaller businesses.
Media Access Project also filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on behalf of the Media Mobilizing Project, and in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on behalf of Access Humboldt, a community media organization in California.
“The FCC’s decision is just too weak,” Sean McLaughlin, executive director of Access Humboldt, said in a statement. “The rules do not provide the strong foundation needed for truly open, innovative networks. So we have a duty to challenge them in federal court.”
Media Access Project’s Andrew Schwartzman said he has talked to a “large number of groups” and more lawsuits are likely.
In its petition, MAIN argues that the FCC’s rules, adopted in December, arbitrarily treat wireless Internet different than wired networks.
“This decision violates the Communications Act of 1934 and other statutes, and is arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise contrary to law,” said the petition, obtained by National Journal.
Free Press followed an identical argument when it filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston on Wednesday. Free Press policy director Matt Wood said all the various lawsuits will likely end up combined on one court.
The groups could be looking to increase their odds of getting a sympathetic court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is where Verizon filed (and may re-file) its case, is considered more likely to rule in favor of companies that dispute the FCC’s authority to make such rules.
But in general, where the case will be heard is decided by lottery. The more courts involved, the less likely it will end up in D.C., statistically speaking. Parties have until Monday to file a lawsuit in order to have a chance for their case to be heard in the court of their choosing.
Verizon, if it files a new case as expected, could still argue that the FCC rules modify its wireless licenses, in which case D.C. would automatically have jurisdiction, Wood said.
Verizon, joined by MetroPCS, challenged the rules after they were enacted in December, but a court said lawsuits had to be filed after the regulations were published in the Federal Register. The rules are scheduled to go into effect at the end of November.
DON'T MISS TODAY'S TOP STORIES