Net neutrality fight enters new stage: what's next?

On Forbes this morning, I analyze the legislative and judicial challenges to last year’s FCC Open Internet rules, the so-called net neutrality order.

Despite the urgency of Friday’s budget machinations, the House took time out to pass House Joint Resolution 37, which “disapproves” the FCC’s December rulemaking. If passed by the Senate and not vetoed by President Obama, HJR 37 would effectively nullify the net neutrality rules, and ensure the FCC cannot pass alternate versions of them absent new authority to do so from Congress.

Most commentators believe that the House action was merely symbolic. Passage in the Senate requires only a simple majority, but the neutrality fight has turned violently partisan since the mid-term elections and getting a few Democratic Senators on-board may be hard. More to the point, the White House last week pre-emptively threatened to veto the resolution.

As I’ve noted before, however, net neutrality could still become a casualty of more important compromises between the White House and Congress. Last week, Politico reported that undoing the FCC order was one of the policy riders Republicans were still pushing. Today’s draft budget bill doesn’t mention that provision, but the budget fight isn’t over.

Still, it seems more likely that the real challenges will come in the courts. On that front, the D.C. Circuit last week rejected lawsuits filed by Verizon and MetroPCS as premature (the new rules are still not published in the Federal Register, and the reasons for the delay are unclear).

The two companies will surely try again, though the dismissal of their first efforts means the case could wind up somewhere other than the D.C. Circuit. Given the strong decision against the FCC in the Comcast case last year, the general consensus is that the D.C. Circuit is the court most likely to rule against the FCC’s thin arguments for authority to issue the rules in the first place.