ObamaNet in Court Again: Positive Early Signs from Today’s Oral Argument
Today, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, commonly known as the nation’s second-highest court, heard oral argument on the latest attempt by the Obama Administration to regulate Internet service. On two previous occasions, the same court rejected the administration’s efforts, so now we’re at Round Three. Lawrence Spiwak of the Phoenix Center offers a helpful summary of today’s hearing, and while it’s impossible to predict the ultimate outcome, early signs are encouraging:
While it is difficult to make accurate prognostications about how a court will ultimately rule based on the questions raised at oral argument, several key points dominated the discussion:
As an initial matter, Judge Tatel clearly took umbrage with the FCC’s rejection of the roadmap under Section 706 the DC Circuit set forth in Verizon v FCC (and initially adopted by the Commission in its May 2014 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) as the result of direct pressure from the White House. As Judge Tatel observed, given such a short time frame, the Commission’s radical departure ‘could not have been changed facts.’
Notwithstanding this displeasure, the panel generally agreed that they are governed by the Supreme Court’s holding in Brand X which emphasizes a focus on how customers perceive the offer of service provided. However, as the court also recognized that the FCC has great latitude the interpret this offer for purposes of regulatory classification, predicting whether or not the court overturns the FCC on wireline reclassification is a close call.
That said, the court appeared skeptical of the FCC’s reclassification of wireless broadband as a Title II common carrier service due to FCC’s gerrymandering of the definition of the term ‘public switched telephone network.’ Moreover, the court seemed concerned over the lack of public notice of the legal theory the Commission used to reclassify mobile broadband. As such, there is a better chance of the court overturning FCC on this issue.
Finally, as assuming the court upholds the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband as a Title II common carrier service, the court did not appear convinced that the FCC’s application of Title II was entirely legitimate. In particular, a good part of the oral argument focused heavily on the fact that the FCC — in apparent response to last minute lobbying by edge providers to counter the analysis made in our law law review Tariffing Internet Termination: Pricing Implications of Classifying Broadband as a Title II Telecommunications Service — included ‘terminating access’ (i.e., the relationship between edge providers and BSPs) into ‘broadband Internet access service’ (’BIAS’), even though they are distinctly different products serving entirely different markets.”
Hopefully, the judicial branch will once again reject this administration’s lawless and destructive overreach, and the light-touch federal regulatory approach to Internet service that existed through both the Clinton and Bush administrations will continue.