Verizon Sues FCC to Overturn Order on Blocking Web Sites

Washington – Less than a month after the Federal Communications Commission adopted an order aimed at keeping Internet service providers from blocking access to certain Web content or applications, Verizon asked a federal appeals court on Thursday to overturn the new rule.

Verizon is arguing that the F.C.C. exceeded its authority, and violated the company’s constitutional rights. Verizon filed its suit in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the same court that in April ruled that the F.C.C. had overstepped itself when it sanctioned Comcast in 2008 for blocking users of its broadband Internet service from BitTorrent, a file-sharing application.

The challenge, which was widely expected to come from at least one of the big Internet service providers, sets up what is likely to be a lengthy legal battle over the rights of broadband companies to run their networks without government interference.

“We are deeply concerned by the F.C.C.’s assertion of broad authority for sweeping new regulation of broadband networks and the Internet itself,” Michael E. Glover, a senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Verizon, said 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,” Mr. Glover added.

The F.C.C. declined to comment on the appeal. But a senior commission official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the agency was confident its order was legally sound and said the commission would most likely challenge Verizon’s appeal on grounds that the lawsuit itself violated F.C.C. rules. Those require that once a new order is published in the Federal Register, which in this case has not yet occurred, any challenge filed within 10 days is entered into a lottery to determine the legal venue.

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Consumer groups attacked Verizon’s suit, saying it constituted venue-shopping because it relied on a legal theory that the F.C.C.’s order modified the company’s licenses for wireless phone spectrum. License modifications, as opposed to general F.C.C. rules, are required to be decided in the District of Columbia circuit. Verizon also asked the appeals court for the same panel of judges who decided the Comcast case.

Aparna Sridhar, policy counsel for Free Press, a group that thought the F.C.C. order did not go far enough, said Verizon’s decision “demonstrates that even the most weak and watered-down rules aren’t enough to appease giant phone companies.”

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