FCC Court Challengers Buoyed By Prison Phone Stay

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has issued a partial stay of the FCC's decision lowering prison phone rates.

The issue does not directly affect either the Open Internet order or the FCC's incentive auction, both being challenged in that court. But court watchers eyeing both those challenges were seeing it as a potentially positive sign.

Low-power stations are seeking a stay of the FCC's incentive auction start date and/or a decision denying their participation in the auction, so the fact that the court had found in favor of a partial stay against the cell phone decision could give them some hope for their stay request.

It is possible that the same three-judge panel that granted the stay in the prison phone case could be deciding the auction stay requests. The same three judges signed off on the briefing schedule for the Latina Broadcasters briefing schedule for their stay request, the attorney for the LPTV confirmed. But a different panel signed off on the briefing schedule for a separate stay request by Videohouse, so it is not clear which panel, or perhaps another, will decide on the LPTV motions. 

On the network neutrality front, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, who had issues with both the Open Internet order and the prison rates item, did not bring up any specific item other than the prison rates, but said Monday that the decision to grant the stay in that case showed that: "Political expedience trumps everything else; the rule of law is ridiculed rather than respected; and bipartisan compromise is rejected in favor of a party-line vote. Thankfully, we can still count on the federal courts to rebuke an agency untethered to the rule of law. Rules and reason may yet triumph over raw power."

Berin Szoka of tech think tank TechFreedom drew a direct line to net neutrality.

“Even though today’s stay order addresses unrelated issues, it may suggest that the D.C. Circuit is taking a harsher look at the FCC’s procedure," he said following the court's decision, "and while the court didn’t grant an initial stay in the challenge to the Open Internet Order, the FCC could still lose on the merits of that case when it comes to the threshold question of whether it provided adequate notice of Title II reclassification, and rules that went well beyond ‘net neutrality.’"

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.