WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Monday rejected as “premature” a lawsuit by Verizon and MetroPCS challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s pending rules aimed at keeping Internet service providers from blocking access to certain websites or applications.
The decision, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit, is a first-round victory for the FCC and its chairman, Julius Genachowski. But the real battle over the agency’s attempt to regulate broadband providers has barely begun.
Several broadband companies, and some consumer advocacy and public interest groups, are likely to return to court this year to challenge aspects of the rules. Edward S. McFadden, a Verizon spokesman, said Monday that the company intended to refile its lawsuit this year.
The House will take up a joint resolution condemning the new Internet access rules this week. Though the House is likely to pass the resolution prohibiting the FCC from putting the new rules into effect, it is doubtful that the resolution will go much further because many Senate Democrats and the Obama administration support the rules.
The Verizon lawsuit was dismissed as premature, the court said, because federal regulations dictate that a challenge to new FCC rules must come within 10 days after a new rule is published in the Federal Register.
That publication has not taken place, although the FCC approved its rules in December, because the regulations must be reviewed for compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act. That FCC review, which includes a 60-day public comment period, will be completed this month. Then, the Office of Management and Budget will conduct a review, with a 30-day comment period, before the rules are published.
A commission spokesman, Robert Kenny, said the agency was pleased by the court’s decision and believed its policy “preserves Internet freedom and openness and strikes the right balance for consumers and businesses across America.”
The new regulations, which the commission calls its Open Internet Order, are commonly known as net neutrality rules. They prohibit companies providing broadband Internet service to consumers from discriminating in granting access by customers to content providers.
Once the regulations are published in the Federal Register, any legal challenge filed in 10 days is entered in a lottery to determine the legal venue.
Verizon and MetroPCS tried to sidestep that provision by contending that the rules modified their licenses to operate wireless broadband networks. So, they said, the dispute was a licensing issue, not an appeal of a new rule, a position the court rejected.