Legal trouble on horizon over net neutrality

A legal storm is brewing for the Federal Communications Commission.

Hours after the head of the cable industry’s Washington lobbying group said his organization is ”highly likely” to sue the agency over its new net neutrality rules, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson guaranteed there will be litigation.

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“It's quite certain that that will be the case,” Stephenson said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Friday morning.

“I won’t tell you exactly what form it may take — it may take the form of industry movement and so forth — but there will be litigation,” he added.

Companies have long pledged a lawsuit over the FCC’s looming net neutrality rules that would reclassify broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service and give the agency broad new powers to police access to the Internet. The rules are also expected to cover people’s access to the Internet through their mobile phones and tablets as well as give the FCC new powers to regulate how companies transfer traffic on the back end of the Internet.

The expected new rules “have basically overturned years and years of Supreme Court rulings [as well as] years and years of FCC positions about what these services are,” Stephenson said.

The threats are not unexpected.

FCC officials have said for months that they expect a lawsuit and have crafted the new regulations to be able to withstand a court battle that could stretch on for months or years.

While that battle drags on, Stephenson predicted, industry groups would ask the court to suspend implementation of the rules so that they would not have to be reversed in the event that a court tossed them out.

“I suspect the industry — all of us in the industry — will be asking for a stay of any order, because it’s hard to put in play something like this and then undo it,” he said on Friday.