The Federal Communications Commission was sued by a trade group and a broadband provider claiming net neutrality rules issued this year exceed the government’s authority.

The lawsuits in Washington and New Orleans filed Monday begin what is expected to be a litigation onslaught from companies claiming the new rules meant to keep the Internet open give government too much power.

The United States Telecom Association and Alamo Broadband Inc. asked the courts to void the rules, which forbid Internet service providers led by Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. from blocking or slowing Web traffic.

Members of the broadband trade group include the largest U.S. telephone companies, AT&T and Verizon Communications Inc.

The FCC claimed strong legal authority rooted in utility-style regulation for the rules, which it approved Feb. 26.

The filings of both USTelecom and Alamo acknowledge that their complaints were filed quickly, and possibly too early, because of uncertainty about procedural deadlines.

Mark Wigfield, an FCC spokesman, said the petitions “are premature and subject to dismissal.”

The FCC said its rules would take effect after being published in the Federal Register, an event that hasn’t happened yet. The agency released the rules on March 12. In 2011, lawsuits against earlier FCC open-Internet rules were dismissed because the actions were filed before the rules appeared in the Federal Register.

Rate Regulation

Critics of the net neutrality rules have said they could lead to rate regulation. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, has said the agency has no plans to set rates.

USTelecom’s challenge to the rules is focused on the FCC’s claim of strong authority, which leaves broadband to be overseen as a public utility, Jonathan Banks, the company’s senior vice president, said in an e-mail.

“We do not block or throttle traffic and FCC rules prohibiting blocking or throttling will not be the focus of our appeal,” Banks said.

U.S. Representatives Fred Upton of Michigan and Greg Walden of Oregon, both Republicans, in an e-mailed statement Tuesday said the “inevitable legal wrangling has begun.”

‘Unnecessary, Inappropriate’

“These filings are the first in what will undoubtedly be years of challenges spurred by the FCC’s unnecessary and inappropriate regulation of the Internet,” said Upton and Walden, whose legislative responsibilities include oversight of the FCC.

Upton and Walden said Congress could enact “durable protections” for Web traffic. Democratic lawmakers haven’t agreed to an initial Republican proposal for a law to replace the FCC’s rules, saying it limits the agency’s power.

For the first time the openness rules apply fully to wireless service, triggering objections from providers, who argue Congress already decided that such service should be lightly regulated.

The new rules seek to replace those voided last year when a court, ruling in a case brought by Verizon, decided the FCC lacked legal authority. The agency also lost a 2010 case when judges decided it didn’t have authority to regulate Comcast’s Internet practices.

‘Glaring’ Flaws

The FCC’s “order has glaring legal flaws that are guaranteed to mire the agency in litigation for a long time,” Commissioner Ajit Pai, a member of the agency’s Republican minority, told Congress at a March 19 hearing. Both Republicans on the FCC voted against the rules, which passed with three Democratic votes led by Wheeler.

Brett Shumate, lawyer for San Antonio-based Alamo Broadband, declined to comment.

Michael Powell, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association trade group and a former FCC chairman, told lawmakers in January the FCC’s path carried a possibility of three to five years of litigation.

At the same hearing, Meredith Attwell Baker, president of CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group, said the mobile industry would “have no choice but to look to the courts” after passage of FCC rules covering their service.

The Washington case is USTelecom v. FCC, 15-1063, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia (Washington).

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