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Originally published Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 7:59 PM

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Verizon files suit to block FCC rules governing Internet access

Verizon Communications went to court Thursday to block newly adopted rules for Internet providers, charging that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overstepped its bounds last month when it approved regulations to prevent broadband providers from using their control over high-speed Internet networks to favor their own business interests.

San Jose Mercury News

WASHINGTON — Verizon Communications went to court Thursday to block newly adopted rules for Internet providers, charging that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overstepped its bounds last month when it approved regulations to prevent broadband providers from using their control over high-speed Internet networks to favor their own business interests.

The FCC rules are "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion," Verizon said in its six-page appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia — a court that just last year ruled against the FCC in a similar case.

The lawsuit is the latest chapter in the long-running saga over network neutrality, the notion that all Web traffic should be treated the same, regardless of its source. The issue has taken on greater urgency with the recent emergence of streaming video and TV shows from companies such as Netflix and Apple — a growing threat to Verizon, Comcast and other pay-TV providers. Those firms also are main providers of high-speed Internet service and could, at least in theory, degrade the quality of streamed video over their networks from potential competitors in the online video realm.

The FCC has come under heavy criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. Net-neutrality advocates argue that the FCC should have gone further to police broadband companies.

Industry groups and Republicans accuse the agency of over-regulating a thriving sector of the economy and potentially suppressing investment in high-speed Internet networks.

"We are deeply concerned by the FCC's assertion of broad authority for sweeping new regulation of broadband networks and the Internet itself," Verizon elaborated in a statement. "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."

"Consumers should be able to surf the Web without their Internet provider limiting their choices to its preferred sites," said Parul Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union. "Verizon's assertion that these rules create 'uncertainty' for consumers just doesn't hold water."

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski declined to comment on the appeal.

Some legal experts believe the FCC rules are on shaky legal ground. That's because agency lawyers used — with a few tweaks — the same legal rationale that was rejected by the D.C. Circuit Court in a separate case last year involving Comcast.

"It's very vulnerable," Larry Downes, an Internet analyst and legal expert, said in an interview. "They really were stretching very hard to find a way to issue these rules."

At the same time, Downes called Verizon's attempt to skip the lower courts and file directly with the D.C. Court of Appeals — which is one level below the U.S. Supreme Court — "very clever, but perhaps a bit too clever."

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