Local Internet Provider Among First to Sue Over FCC Net Neutrality

Texas-based Alamo Broadband in a brief petition argues that the FCC is overstepping its authority with regulations that classify providers as telecommunication entities that cannot manipulate Web traffic.

by Lynn Brezosky, San Antonio Express-News / March 25, 2015
The FCC on Feb. 26 adopts Net Neutrality rules under Title II of the Communications Act. Flickr/Free Press

(Tribune News Service) -- A San Antonio-area Internet provider is one of the first to file suit against the Federal Communications Commission’s new net neutrality rules.

Elmendorf-based Alamo Broadband in a brief petition filed in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans argues that the FCC is overstepping its authority with regulations that classify providers as telecommunication entities that cannot manipulate Web traffic.

The U.S. Telecom Association, an industry group, also filed suit. Both were filed Monday in case the countdown to file started with the March 12 release of the regulations.

“US Telecom strongly supports open Internet rules, but disagrees with the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to reclassify broadband Internet providers as common carriers,” the association said.

The FCC in a statement called the petitions “premature and subject to dismissal.”

Net neutrality is the idea that everyone with an Internet connection should have equal access to content such as video, photos, social networks and maps, with some exceptions that allow Internet service providers to block spam and child pornography.

Net neutrality rules are aimed at preventing a cable company from slowing down, say, a Netflix streaming movie so that customers would be more likely to purchase the movie from a service that had struck a deal with the cable company.

Internet providers oppose net neutrality, saying it will discourage them from investing in upgrades and that they should be allowed to charge content providers for a fast lane to reach customers.

Joe Portman, president of Alamo Broadband, said he was standing up for smaller providers who lacked the money and manpower to deal with potential disclosure and reporting requirements as well as fines and financial damages.

Alamo Broadband started with Portman’s decision to buy high-speed capabilities and share the cost with neighboring underserved customers. The company now has about 900 customers in a coverage area that ranges from Adkins to Pleasanton Road and includes parts of Poteet and South San Antonio, he said.

“I feel that the FCC is really reaching and stretching and bending their rules to try to gain control of something that they have really no business trying to control,” he said.

“Our business is to make our customers happy,” he added. “We have to deliver the data and service that they want so that’s what drives us to create a quality network. And in the real world, there are physical, electrical and other kinds of constraints that limit how much we can deliver.”

He said he agonized over the decision to get publicly involved in a matter that during the public comment period got some 4 million responses.

“I’m already receiving hate mail,” he said.

Matt Wood, policy director of Washington, D.C.-based Free Press, which advocates for net neutrality, said the reclassification was necessary because companies could otherwise discriminate against content.

He noted that Verizon last year tried to argue it was not like a phone company and should have “editorial discretion” over its traffic.

“Now imagine if the phone company said to you, 'You know, not only do we connect your call when you dial others’ numbers, but we have editorial discretion over what you say,’” Wood said.

Wood said the regulations ensured Internet use stayed in the hands of the user.

“What we want to have and what we think we’re actually restoring here, not creating new, is this basic right that the Internet user determines where they go,” he said. “It’s not up to the cable company or the phone company to make that decision for them.”

Andrea Figueroa, program director for the Martinez Street Women’s Center, was among locals who has celebrated the rules.

“What we don’t want is for there to be some sort of tiered system for the Internet,” she said. “The people who have the least access now would have even less access ... which would put people of color at a disadvantage when they’re already at a disadvantage when it comes to the digital divide.”

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