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Posted at 03:28 PM ET, 04/04/2011

Court dismisses Verizon lawsuit against FCC net neutrality rules

A federal appeals court threw out complaints by Verizon Communications and Metro PCS aimed at knocking down Internet access rules by the Federal Communications Commission, saying the lawsuits were filed too early.

But the decision, on a technicality, may be a short-lived victory for the FCC. Verizon Communications said it plans to file another complaint against the agency’s so-called net neutrality rules, once the regulations are officially introduced in the Federal Register.

In an order Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed the legal basis the companies used to file. Judges Karen Lecraft Henderson, David S. Tatel and Brett M. Kavanaugh said in the court’s order that a challenge to the FCC rules must come after the so-called net neutrality order is published in the Fedel Register, and said the “prematurity” of Verizon’s lawsuit was “incurable.”

Verizon and Metro PCS sued the FCC last January, saying that the rules overstep the agency’s jurisdiction as a communications services regulator. The wireless carriers used its holdings of wireless licenses as a legal basis for filing its suit.

FCC spokesman Robert Kenny lauded the court decision, saying its rules, known as “net neutrality” regulations, strike “the right balance for consumers and businesses across America.”

Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden said the company is prepared to file another lawsuit against the agency.

“We were unclear on timing and wanted to be sure we covered our bases,” McFadden said.

Verizon officials have said they filed their complaint to stop the FCC from overstepping its reach over Internet service providers. The company questions the agency’s ability to regulate ISPs, after the same appeals court ruled one year ago that a decision to sanction Comcast for Internet access violation expanded beyond the FCC’s jurisdiction.

The agency’s controversial order bans Internet access providers from blocking or slowing down the transmission of some Internet traffic over others. Metro PCS, a wireless provider, has also filed suit against the FCC with the same legal justifications Verizon put forth.

Public interest groups have largely supported the FCC’s rules, which are being vetted by the Office of Management and Budget, sources say. The December rules have not been implemented officially because they aren’t in the Federal Register.

“The future of the Internet is too important for such legal shenanigans,” said Andrew Schwartzman, policy director of Media Access Project. “Notwithstanding Verizon’s ploy, this case will be heard in the right court, at the right time.”

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By  |  03:28 PM ET, 04/04/2011

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