A US federal appeals court threw out challenges to controversial Internet traffic rules adopted in December, saying the complaints were filed too early.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted on Monday the Federal Communications Commission's motions to dismiss as premature lawsuits filed by Verizon Communications and MetroPCS Communications.
Both companies accused the FCC of overstepping its authority in creating new rules aimed at regulating Internet traffic.
The FCC order, criticised by opponents as a legally shaky government intrusion into regulating the Internet, would prevent network operators from blocking lawful content but still let them ration access to their networks.
FCC rulemakings are traditionally challenged during a 60-day window after the rules are published in the Federal Register.
Verizon, the majority owner of the largest US wireless service, and fifth-ranked MetroPCS, argued that the rules would modify wireless licenses they hold in an attempt to anchor their challenges in a venue favourable to them.
Disputes over airwaves licenses are only heard by the D.C. appeals court. The same court ruled last year that the FCC lacked the authority to stop Comcast Corp from blocking bandwidth-hogging applications on its broadband network.
But the court ruled to uphold the traditional process for overturning rulemakings.
"The challenged order is a rulemaking document subject to publication in the Federal Register, and is not a licensing decision," the D.C. Circuit said on Monday.
The rules, which provided additional flexibility for wireless providers, have still not been published in the Federal Register.
"The prematurity is incurable," the court said.
All requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act must be met and cleared by the Office of Management and Budget before the order can be published in the Federal Register.
Rural telecom companies, mid-sized phone companies, content providers and public interest groups are among those identified by attorneys and analysts as likely to take the FCC to court once the rules are published.
At stake is ensuring consumer access to content such as huge movie files while letting Internet providers manage their networks to prevent congestion.
(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)