A legal fight against the Federal Communications Commission's new Internet traffic rules has begun with a suit by the United States Telecom Association, an industry group that represents companies including AT&T and Verizon.
The FCC's rules were approved in February and uphold the principle of net neutrality — that online content be allowed to load at the same speed. They forbid paid fast lanes favoring some content and say broadband providers can't slow Web traffic or block content.
The rules were published Monday in the government's Federal Register and would go into effect on June 12 if a court doesn't block them. Litigation could drag on for years.
USTelecom said Monday that it has filed suit to throw out the rules in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The suit asks for a review of the FCC's rules on the grounds that they violate federal law and are arbitrary. The suit also says the FCC didn't follow the proper procedure for creating the rules.
An FCC spokeswoman said in an emailed statement Monday that the agency is confident the new Internet rules will be upheld by the courts.
Internet service providers have said they support net neutrality, and USTelecom seconded that Monday. What some companies take issue with is that the FCC put the net neutrality rules in place by regulating Internet access as a telecommunications service — like the telephone, a public utility — rather than as an information service. Some broadband providers don't like the stricter oversight that comes with that change.
Because of that, the FCC will be able to investigate complaints from consumers and Internet companies such as Netflix about "unjust or unreasonable" behavior by broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T.
Internet service providers say they are worried that aspects of the new rules are unclear — what practices would the FCC deem unfair? An AT&T executive has said that the FCC's new rules mean "a period of uncertainty that will damage broadband investment in the United States."
USTelecom had also asked the court to review the rules in March, in what it called a "precautionary move," because it wasn't sure in what time window it was required to file suit. A small Texas broadband provider, Alamo Broadband Inc., had also challenged the rules in March. The FCC had said then that the suits were premature.