WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The federal appeals court in Washington on Tuesday set September 9 as the date for oral arguments in the so-called net neutrality case that could be seminal for federal regulation of Internet traffic.
The highly anticipated hearings, originally expected to take place this past spring, will pit Verizon Communications Inc against the Federal Communications Commission as the biggest U.S. wireless provider challenges the FCC's order that guides how Internet service providers manage their networks.
The ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will have major implications for the increasingly partisan debate over the degree of regulatory power possessed by the federal communications agency.
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be able to access any Web content and use any applications they choose, without restrictions or varying charges imposed by the Internet service provider or the government.
Judges Judith Rogers, Laurence Silberman and David Tatel will hear the arguments in the case, according to the order issued on Tuesday.
The FCC's 2011 open Internet rules require Internet providers to treat all Web traffic equally and give consumers equal access to all lawful content, even if, for instance, it comes from a competitor or disagrees with their political views.
Verizon and other critics argue that the FCC's rules are an unwarranted government intrusion into regulating the Internet, including which content consumers may access and which companies may provide that content, and should be thrown out.
Public interest groups have criticized the rules as too weak, saying the FCC was swayed by big industry players. Democrats on Capitol Hill have said they would push against the court's decision if it sides with Verizon.
The FCC's position in the case received a boost from the Supreme Court in May, when in a separate case it ruled in favor of giving regulatory agencies deference in interpreting the extent of their own regulatory authority.
The case is Verizon v. FCC, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, case No. 11-1355 (and consolidated cases).
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; editing by Matthew Lewis)