Here’s What’s Hiding in Verizon’s Net Neutrality Suit

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Verizon today filed a lawsuit with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia appealing the Federal Communications Commission’s order that sets rules in place to prevent network owners from discriminating on packets traversing their networks. The so-called network neutrality order was approved in December, and lawsuits such as Verizon’s were an expected part of the process.

Verizon is arguing the FCC doesn’t have the legal authority to implement such rules, something legal scholars have questioned in the wake of a ruling by the same court that Verizon has appealed to, which said the FCC didn’t have the legal authority to censure Comcast for blocking P2P traffic on its network. The argument here is important, but the underlying goal in this lawsuit, and with others expected to be filed in the coming weeks, is finding a sympathetic court to hear the inevitable appeals interested parties will make.

It’s no coincidence that Verizon has filed in the very conservative D.C. Appeals court, which has previously struck down FCC rulings, and sees the FCC’s power as limited when it comes to network neutrality. It’s also no coincidence that Verizon’s lawyer in this case, Helgi Walker of Wiley Rein LLP, is the same lawyer who argued for Comcast in the ruling that called the FCC’s authority on network neutrality and even broadband services into question. Other interest groups or companies will likely file lawsuits in friendlier courts in California or other areas of the country where the judges are more likely to rule in favor of the FCC.

The jurisdictional shopping will result in a lottery where one court or the other will be chosen, and once that court is selected, my sources say they will have a fairly clear sense of whether or not the network neutrality rules will stick. Stay tuned; the network neutrality debate will continue — this time in the courts.

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