Charter Communications is one of the largest Internet Service Providers in the United States. In an effort to boost its sales, it recently went into a class action lawsuit against another Internet Service Provider. This class action lawsuit alleged that the other company, called Time Warner Cable, engaged in “unfair and deceptive” practices in violation of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Part 255 consumer protection regulations.
According to the complaint filed by Charter, it is alleged that Time Warner and its various agents violated the FCC’s rules by failing to guarantee a reasonable measure of quality when it came to the connection of its customers’ connections to the broadband Internet. Further, the complaint says that Time Warner Cable also failed to guarantee a reasonable measure of quality or support for the content, services, and applications provided by its broadband Internet service.
Class Action Lawsuit Against Charter Communications
There are two class action lawsuit lawsuits currently pending in the United States involving broadband Internet providers. In one case, Verizon is being sued by individual members of a class of Internet subscribers, who say that the Connecticut-based company did not provide proper net access speeds when they signed on with Verizon.
In another case, Dish Network is being sued by an individual in a California class action lawsuit who says that the company failed to deliver on the services it promised to the group of individual owners and subscribers. In both cases, it appears that the courts are taking the view that broadband Internet providers cannot be held liable unless they are negligent in some way. However, it may turn out that this line of thinking may be changing.
Broadband providers are not necessarily liable, per se, unless they are found to have deliberately engaged in practices that would violate the FCC’s rules and regulations.
Broadband providers could, for example, be found to have violated the FCC’s rules by not following the correct procedure in connection with the provision of its services. Or, the FCC itself could be found to have violated the class action lawsuit through its failure to carry out adequate research into the nature and impact of broadband Internet services before classifying them as common service providers. Based on these factors alone, it would appear that the FCC has actually violated the class action lawsuit plaintiffs’ rights. It is at this point, one must ask – what if the FCC is wrong?
In answering this question, one has to look beyond the FCC’s class action lawsuit and consider what would be the likely result if it were found that the FCC exceeded the authority conferred upon it under the Telecommunications Act.
There are two possible results here. One is that the FCC will lose its credibility, which would practically amount to a declaration of a ban on all broadband Internet access; or, two, the FCC will successfully enforce its class-action lawsuit against Charter Communications. Having regard to these considerations, one should ask – why has the FCC not previously been found to have exceeded its authority?
The answer lies in the fact that prior to the current regulatory scheme, broadband providers had very few problems.
In fact, it would be somewhat surprising to note that the FCC was forced to adopt a regulation which is found to discriminate against broadband providers on the basis of their own classification of service. Under the old regime, the FCC had no power to regulate broadband; and, even when it attempted to do so, there were substantial public comments expressing rejection of the new rules.
In other words, in the absence of FCC regulation, broadband providers could freely engage in any kind of discrimination. The current situation is different, with the FCC acting within the boundaries of the law by taking steps to regulate broadband providers, just as they have regulated traditional phone companies for decades.
It therefore follows that the FCC has every right to pursue a lawsuit against Charter Communications and force Charter Communications to open its books to the competition so that all citizens can enjoy equal access to broadband Internet service.
The argument advanced by the FCC and the attorneys general of several States in support of this action is that the FCC lacks the power to prevent Charter from engaging in a method of classifying its services in a manner that denies service to some classes of individuals or denies service to some other classes of individuals based on merely classification.
It is also argued that the FCC has no power to use the classification of class-connotation in a way that will prevent companies from providing goods or services to the consumer in order to advance its own agenda of increasing government control over the economy. These arguments have been broadly rejected by the courts, and the FCC simply cannot succeed with this argument.