MCI Telecommunications Corporation v. American Telephone & Telegraph Company

PETITIONER: MCI Telecommunications Corporation
RESPONDENT: American Telephone & Telegraph Company
LOCATION: Colorado Springs, Colorado

DOCKET NO.: 93-356
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 512 US 218 (1994)
ARGUED: Mar 21, 1994
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1994

ADVOCATES:
Christopher J. Wright - on behalf of the Federal Petitioners
David W. Carpenter - on behalf of the Respondents
Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. - on behalf of the private Petitioner

Facts of the case

Question

Media for MCI Telecommunications Corporation v. American Telephone & Telegraph Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 1994 in MCI Telecommunications Corporation v. American Telephone & Telegraph Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 17, 1994 in MCI Telecommunications Corporation v. American Telephone & Telegraph Company

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 93-356, MCI Telecommunications Corporation versus AT&T and a companion case will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

These cases are here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Title 47 of the United States Code Section 203(a) requires communication's common carriers to file tariffs with the Federal Communications Commission, and Section 203(b)(2) authorizes the Commission to "modify any requirement made by or under this section".

Relying on its modification authority, the Commission issued an order reaffirming its decision to make the tariff filing requirement of Section 203(a) optional for all non-dominant carriers, which, in the long distance market, means every carrier accept respondent, AT&T.

AT&T filed a motion with the Court of Appeals seeking summary reversal of the FCC's order.

The Court of Appeals granted that motion based on its prior decision which had determined that the Commission's policy of permissive detariffing violated Section 203(a).

In a decision announced today, we affirm the judgment of the District of Columbia Circuit.

The Commission's policy of permissive detariffing exceeds its authority to modify any requirement of this Section.

Virtually every dictionary in use currently and at the time the statute was enacted defines modify to mean to change moderately or in a minor degree.

The conclusion that Section 203(b)(2) does not contemplate major or fundamental changes as supported by the fact that its only exception deals with a minor matter.

The Commission, by virtue of that exception, may not lengthen the required period for giving notice of tariff changes beyond 120 days.

The Commission's permissive detariffing policy does not qualify as a non-fundamental modification.

The tariff filing requirement is the heart of the Communications Act and the elimination of it for all but one long distance carrier and for 40% of long distance customers is not a mere modification.

Likewise, a condition that applies to that many carriers is not special and the Commission's authority to modify by general order which is what happened here is limited to special circumstances or conditions.

The Commission's attempt to include its permissive detariffing policy within the meaning of modify is more than that statutory term can bear.

Accordingly, its interpretation is not entitled to deference.

Both sides point to legislation that they claim was premised on their view of the statute, but there has been no consistent history of legislation to which either side's interpretation is essential.

Finally, although the petitioners offer several arguments, suggesting that their interpretation better serves the Act's broad goal of promoting efficient telephone service, those arguments should be addressed to Congress.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Blackmun and Souter have joined.

Justice O'Connor took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.