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Court Rejects Effort to Postpone Net Neutrality Rules

The new rules on Internet providers are set to go into effect Friday.

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A federal appeals court shot down an emergency effort by broadband providers to stop new net neutrality rules from going into effect Friday, saying the companies hadn’t met the “stringent” bar for such a stay.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was mostly expected. The new net neutrality rules are designed to prevent anticompetitive behavior by broadband providers, not to address an urgent, current problem.

The ruling also doesn’t forecast how the court might rule on the central question of whether the new rules are legal. The court did grant a request to consider the case on an expedited basis, which means that this debate can be settled a bit quicker.

Broadband providers wanted to delay the rules from going into effect until after the court rules on the larger decision — probably next year — about whether the rules are legal.

The move was a something of a setback for broadband providers which had hoped to stop the new rules from going into effect tomorrow. Public interest groups and Internet companies that supported the rules had urged the court to allow the rules to go into effect on time.

Last week, Miguel Estrada and Ted Olson, two top Supreme Court litigators who have been hired by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, told reporters that they wouldn’t be surprised if the court declined to delay the Federal Communications Commission’s new rules from going into effect.

“You sue not to get a stay but to win,” Estrada told reporters, adding that he expected the court would simply try to move forward on an expedited basis to resolve the legal challenges.

Cable companies and other Internet providers sued the FCC in March to block rules approved earlier this year to prevent broadband providers from blocking or slowing legal traffic. The FCC essentially re-regulated Internet lines under a section of the law written for phone networks.

Consumer groups, Internet companies and net neutrality proponents cheered that move, but it infuriated broadband providers, which have argued that there’s no need for heavy-handed regulation.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released a statement calling the court’s decision “a huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators!”

On the other side, broadband providers sounded somewhat resigned.

“While the stay decision is disappointing and a loss for consumers, securing a judicial stay is always a challenge given the extremely high standards,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, CEO of CTIA, the wireless association, in a statement. USTelecom president Walter McCormick said his members were looking forward “to providing the court a more fulsome, detailed accounting of the legal problems with the commission’s order.”

Meanwhile, on Thursday a House appropriations committee approved a budget bill which included language that would prohibit the FCC from using its funding to enforce the new rules until after the federal court challenge has been concluded. It’s not clear that the language will actually stay in the legislation, but the move has infuriated net neutrality activists.

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