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Telecom and cable groups file with court to stay net neutrality order

Telecom and cable groups moved on to the next step in fighting the Federal Communications Commission’s open Internet order, filing a joint motion for a partial stay of the order before it goes into effect on June 12.

The joint motion was filed Wednesday in the D.C. court of appeals by USTelecom, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, CTIA-The Wireless Association, AT&T Inc., American Cable Association, CenturyLink, and Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISP).

So far, 10 Internet service providers, including those that filed for the partial stay, have filed lawsuits against the FCC’s order, passed in February on a party-line vote.

The petitioners are seeking to stay parts of the FCC order, including the reclassification of broadband as a common carrier and the Internet conduct standard, but not the three “bright line” rules prohibiting blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.

“We hope that the court will move swiftly to grant effective relief, and that Congress will soon act to provide clear authority and needed direction as to the scope of appropriate Internet protections,” said Michael Powell, president and CEO of the NCTA and a former FCC chairman.

The consolidated petition was expected since last Friday when the Federal Communications Commission denied three petitions for a stay. None of the parties were under any delusion that the FCC would grant a stay, but procedure required them to file with the FCC first before the D.C. circuit.

Without a stay, the petitioners warn that the FCC will become the Department of the Internet.

In the motion, the parties claim that a stay of the FCC’s order to reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers is necessary to avoid “immense burdens and costs that a ruling overturning the order cannot undo. The order will also invite a torrent of enforcement proceedings and litigation, and force providers to undertake costly reviews of countless business practices, from ‘traffic exchange’ agreements….to the handling of customer information and marketing.”

Smaller cable companies believe they are particularly vulnerable. “This impact will be felt especially hard by smaller ISPs that lack the resources to cope with such a massive shift in policy,” said Matthew Polka, president and CEO of the ACA.

While petitioners argue that the net neutrality order will cause their businesses harm, they also argue that a stay will not harm the public. “A stay is particularly merited because the FCC has pointed to no imminent threat to other particles necessitating common carrier regulation. Chairman [Tom] Wheeler analogized reclassification to an insurance policy designed to protect against low-probability events, and the FCC described the Internet conduct standard as a way to “future-proof” the bright-line rules, from which the petitions do not seek a stay.”

Groups that support the FCC order are also weighing in with the court, with Free Press filing a motion to intervene.

“Free Press will fight the spurious and unsubstantiated claims of the phone and cable companies and uphold the FCC’s decision to root open Internet protections in established law. This fight includes opposing the industry attempt to get the court to delay the implementation of these fundamental safeguards for Internet users,” Matt Wood, Free Press’ policy director said.

Other public advocacy groups that have filed to intervene include the Center for Democracy and Technology and New America’s Open Technology Institute.