AT&T Corporation v. Iowa Utilities Board

PETITIONER: AT&T Corporation
RESPONDENT: Iowa Utilities Board
LOCATION: Elizabeth Township, Allegheny County

DOCKET NO.: 97-826
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 525 US 366 (1999)
ARGUED: Oct 13, 1998
DECIDED: Jan 25, 1999

Bruce J. Ennis, Jr. - Argued the cause for the private petitioners
David W. Carpenter - Argued the cause for the private cross-respondents/petitioners
Diane Munns - Argued the cause for the State Commission respondents
Laurence H. Tribe - Argued the cause for the private respondents
Seth P. Waxman - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the federal cross-respondents/petitioners
William P. Barr - Argued the cause for the cross-petitioners/respondents

Facts of the case

The 1996 Telecommunications Act (Act) fundamentally altered local telephone markets by ending the monopolies traditionally given to local exchange carriers (LECs) by states and subjecting LECs to a host of duties meant to facilitate market entry. Among these was the imposition of an obligation on incumbent LECs to share their networks with competitors. Following the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) issuance of regulations implementing the Act's guidelines, AT&T challenged their constitutionality on behalf of itself and other existing phone service providers.


Does the Federal Communication Commission have authority to implement the competition-inducing guidelines set out in the 1996 Telecommunications Act?

Media for AT&T Corporation v. Iowa Utilities Board

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 13, 1998 in AT&T Corporation v. Iowa Utilities Board

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in a number of consolidated cases, 97-826, AT&T Corporation v. Iowa Utilities Board, et cetera, et cetera.


And we'll have an hour for the jurisdictional argument.

Then we'll take a very brief pause while counsel adjust their seatings at the table, and then we'll go on for the next hour of argument.

General Waxman.

Seth P. Waxman:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

In 1996, Congress enacted general standards designed to bring competition to local telecommunications markets rapidly and throughout the country.

In doing so, it expressly extended Federal law to cover the rates, terms, and conditions under which incumbents must provide new entrants access to their facilities.

No one doubts that the FCC has authority to promulgate some rules interpreting these provisions.

The jurisdictional issue presented in this case is whether in certain specific respects, principally regarding the methodology for setting lease rates for network elements, Congress has for the first time denied the FCC rulemaking authority with respect to a substantive provision of the Communications Act.

The answer is no.

The 1996 amendments preserved the Commission's existing authority under section 201(b) to prescribe such rules and regulations as may be necessary in the public interest to carry out the provisions of this act.

William H. Rehnquist:

But, General Waxman, 201(b)... you find before that, of course, naturally 201(a), and there it says, it shall be the duty of every common carrier engaged in interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio.

So, don't you think the rule... the rulemaking provision is limited to that kind of things?

Seth P. Waxman:

No, I don't, Mr. Chief Justice, and for a variety of reasons.

First of all, section 201(b), in which the relevant rulemaking grant is not so limited... and we think that in any event, the specific sentence in 201(b) that I quoted should be interpreted according to its plain meaning.

Moreover, in the--

William H. Rehnquist:

But you think its plain meaning means it should extend beyond the section in which it's found?

Seth P. Waxman:

--I think that it means... section 201(a) is... itself is limited to intrastate and foreign commerce.

The last sentence of section 201(b) is not so limited.

William H. Rehnquist:

Yes, but--

Seth P. Waxman:

And I think it should be interpreted according to its terms.

William H. Rehnquist:

--But, you know, if this were a general thing that were to extend throughout the Federal communications statutes, why would you find it tucked away here at the very end of section 201(b)?

Seth P. Waxman:

Well, Mr. Chief Justice, two responses.

First of all, in... in I think what can only be described as belt and suspenders, the Commission has other statutory provisions that granted the same plenary rulemaking authority, 47 U.S.C., section 154(i) and section 303(r).

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, but doesn't that suggest that each of those grants is limited to the sections in which they're found?

Seth P. Waxman:

I don't think it does, and moreover, with respect to 201(b), it's clear that Congress in 1996 had this section specifically in mind because section 251(i) of the 1996 amendments, which is entitled Savings Provision, specifically says that nothing in this act shall be deemed to limit... nothing in section 251 shall be deemed to limit or impair the applicability of the provisions of section 201.

So, we think it... Congress had it in mind and wanted it to be interpreted according to its plain meaning, but--

William H. Rehnquist:

But... but if shall not be deemed to impair 201, 201 contains (a) as well as (b).

Seth P. Waxman:

--That's true.