Talk America, Inc. v. Michigan Bell Telephone Co.

PETITIONER: Talk America, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Michigan Bell Telephone Company, dba AT&T Michigan, et al.
LOCATION: Michigan Public Service Commission

DOCKET NO.: 10-313
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 564 US (2011)
GRANTED: Dec 10, 2010
ARGUED: Mar 30, 2011
DECIDED: Jun 09, 2011

ADVOCATES:
Eric D. Miller - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae supporting the petitioner
John J. Bursch - for the petitioner
Scott H. Angstreich - for the respondent

Facts of the case

Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress sought to open up the local telephone markets to competition by requiring incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) to share their equipment and services with competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs). Under early interpretations of the law, incumbent-constructed entrance facilities had to provide at-cost access to the competitors. In AT&T Inc. unit Michigan Bell Telephone Co.'s interpretation, the FCC's Triennial Review Remand Order in 2005 created a means to charge for the use of the facilities, and the company announced plans to do so.

Competitor carriers complained to the Michigan Public Service Commission, and it ruled that the entrance facilities should still be provided at cost. Michigan Bell sued in federal court and won. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed.

Question

Does federal law require local telephone companies, already established, to allow new competitors in their markets to link to the existing networks through connecting wires at low, government-regulated rates?

Media for Talk America, Inc. v. Michigan Bell Telephone Co.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 30, 2011 in Talk America, Inc. v. Michigan Bell Telephone Co.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 09, 2011 in Talk America, Inc. v. Michigan Bell Telephone Co.

Clarence Thomas:

The -- this case has come to us on a writ of certio -- on writs of certiorari to the United States -- from the United States Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires incumbent local telephone providers like -- or such us respondent AT&T to share certain parts of their physical networks with competitors at cost-based prices.

This case concerns an incumbent's obligation to lease entrance facilities which are typically wires or cables that connect to networks.

Entrance facilities can be used for two different purposes.

One is called "backhauling" and the other is called "interconnection".

The FCC recently decided that incumbent local telephone providers are not required to lease entrance facilities for backhauling.

It emphasized however, that it was not changing incumbent's existing obligation to provide facilities necessary for interconnection.

After the FCC's decision, AT&T notified its competitors that it would no longer provide entrance facilities at cost-based prices for either backhauling or interconnection.

The competitors argued that AT&T was violating its duty to provide interconnection.

The District Court ruled that AT&T -- ruled for AT&T and the Sixth Circuit affirmed.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today we reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals because no statute or regulation expressly addresses AT&T's obligation to lease its entrance facilities, we look to the FCC's interpretation of its regulations in its amicus brief.

The FCC argues that an incumbent must lease existing entrance facilities to competitors at cost-based rates if the facilities are to be used for interconnection.

We find the FCC's interpretation reasonable and defer to that interpretation.

The opinion of the Court is unanimous.

Justice Scalia has filed the concurring opinion.

Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.