Verizon was taking heat from legislators, former FCC
commissioners/chairmen and others for its constitutional arguments against the
FCC's network neutrality rules.
A trio of Democratic legislators and network neutrality fans
say they are troubled by Verizon's argument that broadband providers have
"a right to decide what they transmit online and that those business
decisions are tantamount to speech deserving First Amendment protection."
That was seconded by a number of FCC defenders who saw major
problems for enforcing a host of existing laws if that argument held sway.
In a "dear colleague" letter to their, well,
colleagues, Reps. Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo, both California, and Ed Markey
(D-Mass.) were referring to Verizon's brief in its challenge to the FCC's Open
Internet order in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
"If the court accepts Verizon's argument, the role of
Congress in enacting communications policy through power granted by the
Commerce Clause -- including efforts to protect consumers and promote
competition in contexts far removed from the Open Internet rules themselves --
could be radically undermined," they argued.
"Verizon has been a longtime advocate for an open
Internet, and is the only Internet Service Provider that voluntarily adopted
such policies," a Verizon spokesman told B&C/Multi. "Our
filing makes clear that we remain concerned that the FCC's sweeping assertion
in this case exceeds its statutory authority and constitutional limits."
In the brief, filed jointly by Verizon and MetroPCS, the
companies say the FCC has twice tried to "conjure" a role for itself
in Internet regulation -- the same court threw out the FCC's smackdown of
Comcast over BitTorrent peer-to-peer file management/blocking. In this case,
says Verizon, the FCC is going further than it did in Comcast, imposing common
carrier regs on broadband providers by requiring them to carry all "edge
providers" and establishing de facto price controls of zero for that
The speech argument that so troubles the legislators is part
of a two-part argument long made by cable and telco operators against net
neutrality rules. That is that the regs arrogate control of speech on their
networks, a violation of their First Amendment rights, and that they are a
taking of property (mandating access, or "occupation" as Verizon puts
it, for a price of zero), which is a violation of their Fifth Amendment
protections from government taking of property without compensation.
Briefs were due this week in the case, and there were a
number of them being circulated around Washington at presstime that took issue
with the constitutional arguments.
For example, in an amicus brief backing the FCC and cited by
the trio of legislators, former FCC commissioners and chairmen, NATOA and a
former top White House adviser, urged the court to reject what they said were
Verizon's "startling" constitutional arguments.
"Were Verizon's theories credited, Congress's historic
power to take and authorize measures to preserve openness of communication
networks would be unsettled and dramatically narrowed," they said. The
"they" in this case were former FCC Democrats Chairmen Reed Hundt and
Michael Copps, and commissioners Tyrone Brown and Nicholas Johnson, as well as
former Obama White House senior adviser Susan Crawford.
In another amicus brief filed in defense of the FCC,
Columbia University law professor and author Tim Wu was also concerned about
the First Amendment argument. He said the court should reject that essentially
for the same reason that Markey and company were concerned: the potential
impact on communications legislation and regulation.
"There is no way to hold the Order unconstitutional
without implying the same for much of more than a century and a half of similar
regulations, including many, like the Order, that imposed non-discrimination
rules but not full common carriage duties. To suggest that laws in force for
most of the Republic's history were actually unconstitutional would be a
dramatic outcome indeed."