Liberal group sues FCC, claiming net-neutrality rules unfair to wireless

Free Press, a liberal advocacy group, sued the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday, arguing its recently published net-neutrality rules do not do enough to protect wireless Internet access.

The rules prevent Internet service providers from discriminating between two similar content providers by slowing down or speeding up access to their sites. Wireless carriers are banned from blocking lawful websites or applications that compete with their services.

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The commission approved the rules last December in a partisan vote, and conservatives have characterized the move as an attempt to regulate the Internet. 

But Free Press argues the rules do not go far enough.

Its lawsuit alleges the rules arbitrarily provide less protection for wireless Internet access, such as through smartphones, than traditional wired Internet access. 

“Our challenge will show that there is no evidence in the record to justify this arbitrary distinction between wired and wireless Internet access," Free Press policy director Matt Wood said in a news release. "The disparity that the FCC's rules create is unjust and unjustified. And it's especially problematic because of the increasing popularity of wireless, along with its increasing importance for younger demographics and diverse populations who rely on mobile devices as their primary means for getting online."

The petition asks a federal court to find that the rules are "arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise contrary to law."

The Federal Register officially published the net-neutrality rules on Friday, opening the floodgates to legal challenges. Verizon and MetroPCS already filed suit over the rules, but a judge dismissed their case in April, finding that the companies would have to wait until the rules were published. They are expected to refile their challenge.

The FCC vowed to fight the lawsuit in court.

“We are pleased that, since its adoption, the commission’s open Internet framework has brought certainty and predictability, stimulating increased innovation and investment across the broadband economy, including mobile networks and apps," an FCC spokesman said. "We will vigorously oppose any effort to disrupt or unsettle that certainty, which ensures that the Internet remains an engine for job creation, innovation and economic growth.”

The wireless industry also criticized the lawsuit.

"I don't know what Free Press is reading, but as the FCC noted during the proceeding, wireless is different," said Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA-the Wireless Association. "There is ample evidence on the record that proves this."

This story was posted at 2:22 p.m. and updated at 3:39 p.m.