Verizon to FCC: Free speech trumps Net neutrality rules

The carrier has filed its first brief outlining its arguments in a federal lawsuit, calling the FCC's rules "arbitrary and capricious" -- and unconstitutional.

Bring out the constitutional scholars: Verizon says the Federal Communications Commission's Net neutrality rules violate the right to free speech.

In a nutshell, Verizon argues that the FCC has overstepped its authority with its Net neutrality rules, going so far as to argue that the rules are unconstitutional -- Verizon sees the transmission of data across its network as "speech." As if that's not enough, the carrier argues that the rules are "arbitrary and capricious." In other words, Verizon doesn't believe the rules are necessary given that there hasn't been a big problem of companies slowing down traffic or blocking services on their networks.

Verizon laid out its argument in a brief filed yesterday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

In December 2010, the FCC adopted a set of Net neutrality rules in an effort to protect broadband users from having a service provider slow down traffic or block certain content. The agency adopted those rules after it lost a court battle over having penalized cable and broadband provider Comcast for violating its Net neutrality principles. But a federal court said that the FCC had overstepped its bounds in that case.

Once the rules were officially registered with the government in September of last year, Verizon said it planned to file a lawsuit against the FCC challenging the rules and asking the court to overturn them.

The FCC has until this coming September to file its legal reply with the court.

The Net neutrality debate has been raging for years, with supporters asking for the government to enact rules or laws that protect consumers and promote competition on the Internet.

Those who support Net neutrality argue that the rules are necessary because without them broadband providers, many of whom also provide television service and own their own video content, can favor their content and services over the content and services of a competing company that uses the broadband providers' networks. In other words, Net neutrality proponents fear that Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and others will monkey with traffic from a company like Netflix to encourage customers to use their own video services and ditch a rival like Netflix that uses the broadband network to deliver its movie and TV streaming service. As a result, they may run these other companies out of business.

Meanwhile, those opposing the rules have said for a long time that they are simply unnecessary. The Net neutrality detractors, which include all of the large service providers, argue that broadband companies have an incentive to make sure that they carry all traffic to consumers. What's more, they simply don't like the government controlling rules dictating how the Internet operates.

The D.C. Court of Appeals, which is hearing Verizon's lawsuit against the FCC, ruled against the federal agency when it tried to enforce what were then only Net neutrality "principles." After that court ruling, the FCC developed official regulations, which are the rules that Verizon would like struck down.

Other service providers are also fighting the new regulation. Prepaid wireless provider MetroPCS has also filed a lawsuit against the FCC asking the court to overturn the regulation. And it has joined Verizon in many of its arguments.

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