Before the start of a Senate hearing about consumer online privacy in July, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), right, chats with Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC. (Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES)

And with those challenges, the FCC will again be faced with tough questions about its ability to regulate broadband Internet services — a power that telecom giants such as Verizon Communications and Comcast NBC Universal argue doesn’t exist.

The debate over the FCC’s role in the Internet age has never been more important to resolve, consumer advocacy groups say, as Americans are relying on the Internet more than ever and increasingly doing so through mobile devices. IDC reported this week that Americans will access the Internet more on mobile devices than wireline devices by 2015.

The FCC’s rules prohibit Internet service providers from blocking services or arbitrarily speeding up or slowing traffic on their networks. The rules are focused on wireline ISPs. The FCC only forbids wireless providers from blocking voice and video telephony services (Skype, Google Voice) on wireless networks.

As such, companies such as Verizon Wireless and Metro PCS are expected to file lawsuits once the Internet access rules are published in the Federal Registry.

Now that the Office of Management and Budget has signed off on the rules, the regulations will head to the Federal Register and be published in an estimated one to three weeks. The rules aren’t effective until 60 days after they are published, according to an FCC spokesman.

So within three months, the publishing of rules may trigger lawsuits from obvious opponents of the rules, Verizon and Metro PCS. Both firms filed lawsuits when the FCC first approved the rules last January. The lawsuits were thrown out, however, as a federal appeals court judge said the grounds of the suits weren’t justified.

“Talk about net neutrality has been quiet over the past few months but companies still really care because they want to have as much flexibility as they can,” said Jeff Silva, a telecom policy analyst at Medley Global Advisors.

And lawmakers are expected to invoke the Congressional Review Act to overturn the rules, experts say. Republican have been particularly outspoken critics of one of the FCC’s biggest policy initiatives under Chairman Julius Genachowski, calling the open Internet policy an overstretch of the agency’s authority. They have also criticized the FCC for imposing rules that could stifle an Internet Service Provider’s ability to manage congestion on their networks and create new business models.

The FCC has said it believes it does have the ability to regulate broadband ISPs under current communications laws. Genachowski has said he won’t try to redefine broadband as a communications service to ensure their ability to regulate. That proposal created a firestorm of protest from ISPs and Republicans, while many consumer groups pushed for the regulatory move.

“This question won’t go away,” said Consumers Union policy counsel Parul Desai. “With so many other proceedings at the FCC — Universal Service Fund reform, Truth in Billing, Bill Shock and Cramming — the FCC will be challenged on each of these issues about their authority.”


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