Appeals court denies requests to delay Net neutrality rules

The FCC's Net neutrality rules go into effect Friday, as scheduled

A U.S. appeals court has denied requests by several broadband providers and trade groups to delay the Federal Communications Commission's Net neutrality rules while they challenge the regulations.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today denied 10 requests to delay the implementation of the rules. The court's denial of the stay requests means the new Net neutrality rules will go into effect as scheduled Friday, even as 10 lawsuits against the rules go forward at the appeals court.

The groups requesting a stay of the rules "have not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review," a panel of three judges wrote.

Groups challenging the Net neutrality rules had argued that the FCC's reclassification of broadband as a regulated, telecom-style service would create massive new regulations for broadband providers to deal with. Supporters of the lawsuits had also looked to a stay to signal the appeals court's inclination to rule against the FCC, although a denial of a stay may not necessarily mean the court approves of the rules.

Getting a stay is often difficult, said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, a free market think tank opposed to the rules. "The fact that the court didn't issue the stay until the 11th hour strongly suggests that at least one judge thought the arguments for the stay were compelling," he said by email. "Otherwise, the court would have issued the stay much earlier."

The court's denial of the stay requests is a "huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. "Starting Friday, there will be a referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair and open. Blocking, throttling, pay-for-priority fast lanes and other efforts to come between consumers and the Internet are now things of the past."

Brian Dietz, vice president of communications for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, sent a sad face in an email when asked for a comment on the court action. NCTA is one of the trade groups suing the FCC over the rules.

Along with the denial of the stay, the judges approved an expedited briefing schedule for the lawsuits, now combined into one court action. The judges urged plaintiffs to file joint proposals for a briefing format and schedule, saying the court "looks with extreme disfavor on repetitious submissions."

Granting an expedited briefing schedule suggests that the court finds "at least some merit" in the plaintiffs' arguments about economic injury from the rules, Szoka said.

USTelecom, another trade group suing the FCC, also welcomed the expedited briefing schedule, even though the group was disappointed in the denial of the stay.

"The court's decision to grant expedited briefing shows the gravity of the issues at stake and will facilitate a quicker path to determining the proper legal treatment for regulating broadband Internet access service," USTelecom President and CEO Walter McCormick Jr. said in a statement.

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