Friday, May 29, 2015

Incumbents' petition to block FCC's Title II rules faces steep legal hurdles, likely dismissal

John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable outlines the legal arguments being made by incumbent telephone and cable companies seeking to block enforcement of the Federal Communication Commission's recently promulgated regulations reclassifying Internet services as common carrier telecommunications services under Title II of the Communications Act.

The incumbents' petition is likely to be dismissed. The reason is what's known as judicial deference: courts generally defer to regulatory agencies' interpretation of statutory law requirements. The doctrine holds that regulators have the necessary expertise to discern and apply the finer points of statutes whereas judges, who generally do not, are naturally reluctant to second guess the decisions of regulators or interject themselves into disagreements over statutory law between regulators and regulated entities. Under the doctrine of judicial deference, the appropriate forum to work out disagreements with regulators over application of statutory law is the rulemaking process and not the courts.

In this case, the incumbents face an especially steep challenge because the Communications Act specifically grants the FCC broad discretion to apply Title II of the Act in the first section of Title II. Section 201(b) states that "[t]he Commissioner may prescribe such rules and regulations as may be necessary in the public interest to carry out the provisions of this Act."

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