The FCC’s net neutrality plan may have even bigger ramifications in light of this obscure court case

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The plan by the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate its network neutrality rules next week is expected to hand a major victory to Internet service providers. But any day now, a federal court is expected to weigh in on a case that could dramatically expand the scope of that deregulation — potentially giving the industry an even bigger win and leaving the government less prepared to handle net neutrality complaints in the future, consumer groups say. The case involves AT&T and one of the nation's top consumer protection agencies, the Federal Trade Commission. At stake is the FTC's ability to prosecute companies that act in unfair or deceptive ways. The litigation is significant as the FCC prepares to transfer more responsibility to the FTC for handling net neutrality complaints. 

If AT&T gets its way in the case, the FTC's ability to pursue misbehaving companies — over net neutrality issues or otherwise — may be sharply curtailed. Some antitrust experts say the consequences of a ruling against the FTC could go far beyond net neutrality, opening the door to many more companies trying to escape FTC oversight by claiming they are common carriers. “Companies whose common carrier activities represent only a minuscule portion of their business could bootstrap that status into an exemption from FTC oversight of even non-common carrier activities,” said Robert Cooper, an antitrust lawyer at the firm Boies Schiller Flexner. Google parent company Alphabet could theoretically claim to be a common carrier because one of its many subsidiaries is Google Fiber, a small voice and Internet access provider. Hence “every smart company” that could afford it would try to take advantage of the loophole by buying or launching a small telecom company, said David Vladeck, a law professor at Georgetown University and a former director of the FTC's consumer protection bureau.


The FCC’s net neutrality plan may have even bigger ramifications in light of this obscure court case