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American Telephone and Telegraph Co. v. United States

decided: September 23, 1974.

AMERICAN TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH COMPANY, PETITIONER,
v.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENTS, DATA TRANSMISSION COMPANY, MICROWAVE TRANSMISSION CORPORATION, MICROWAVE COMMUNICATIONS, INC., AND MCI TELECOMMUNICATIONS CORRPORATION, COMPUTER AND BUSINESS EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION, INTERVENORS



Petition to review portion of Federal Communications Commission order, 25 F.C.C.2d 957 (1970), reconsideration denied, 40 F.C.C.2d 149 (1973), in which the Commission adopted 47 C.F.R. § 61.58 (1973) which enlarges from 30 days to 60 days the required notice period for common carriers filing rate increases. Petition denied.

Kaufman, Chief Judge, Mulligan and Timbers, Circuit Judges.

Author: Mulligan

MULLIGAN, Circuit Judge:

This is a petition by the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) for review*fn1 of a portion of a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order, 25 F.C.C.2d 957 (1970), reconsideration denied, 40 F.C.C.2d 149 (1973), in which the FCC adopted Rule 61.58, now codified at 47 C.F.R. § 61.58 (1973),*fn2 which revises the procedures that govern the filing of interstate tariffs by communications common carriers. The sole question raised by the petition is whether Section 203(b) of the Communications Act of 1934, 47 U.S.C. § 203(b),*fn3 which gives the FCC the power in its discretion and for good cause shown to "modify" its requirements, permits a rule revision which enlarges from 30 days to 60 days the required notice period for common carriers filing rate increases. The petitioner urges that the FCC statutory power to "modify" its requirements must be construed to mean that the Commission has only the authority to shorten, but not to extend the public notice requirement. We are persuaded that the word "modify" used in the statute plainly gives the FCC the power to alter or change the notice period whether it results in an increase or decrease of time involved. The petition for review is therefore denied.

I

Where the FCC has not prescribed a rate, carriers initiate rate changes by filing a tariff with the Commission. Because of the notice provision of Section 203(b), the tariff normally goes into effect 30 days after the filing. The waiting period is designed to give the public the opportunity to review the tariff and to make any pertinent comments. It is further intended to provide the FCC time to study the tariff as well as any comments received from the public. The FCC may reject the tariff, 47 U.S.C. § 203(a), or suspend it and order an investigation of the proposed rates, 47 U.S.C. § 204. The suspension period, however, may not exceed 3 months. If the FCC has not completed its investigation within that time, then the rate becomes effective by operation of law. If the rate is subsequently found to be unlawful, the carrier is obligated to refund excess charges. 47 U.S.C. § 204.

By 1969, the FCC was aware of the fact that the notice provisions furnished inadequate time either for public or Commission evaluation. Under the then Commission rules, 47 C.F.R. § 1.773 (1969),*fn4 the public was requested to file its comments within 16 days of the filing of the proposed tariff which gave the FCC only 14 days to evaluate the public comment and even less time to consider the carrier's response. Moreover, tariff filings had become increasingly more complex and difficult to assess.

On October 17, 1969, the FCC initiated rule-making procedures seeking to amend its regulations to require carriers to provide more specific data with their tariffs, to provide actual notice of tariff filings to the public (previously, copies of the tariffs were simply posted in areas where the carrier operated) and to extend the 30-day notice period to 60 days. Notice of Proposed Rule Making, 34 Fed. Reg. 17116. The petitioner and other carriers objected. The Commission, on October 13, 1970, released its Final Report and Order, 25 F.C.C.2d 957, adopting in substance the regulations proposed in its Notice. AT&T petitioned for reconsideration and the FCC denied the petition in a Memorandum Opinion and Order released on March 27, 1973, 40 F.C.C.2d 149. This petition for judicial review followed and it is limited to the sole question of the statutory power of the FCC (not the wisdom of its policy) to extend the 30-day notice provision to 60 days.

II

As we noted initially, Section 203(b) clearly provides that the FCC has the power to "modify" the notice requirement. AT&T concedes this but argues that the word "modify" can only mean reduce and cannot be interpreted to mean enlarge. The FCC and the intervenors urge that to modify means to change or to alter whether or not this results in an increase or decrease in the notice period. Each party and the intervenors have supplied etymological support for their positions.*fn5 AT&T even resorts to the philological ultimate, the Latin root, modificare, in which it finds particular comfort. Before succumbing to semantic aphasia, we are persuaded that to "modify" means to alter or to change whether this involves enlargement or reduction. Black's Law Dictionary 1155 (4th ed. 1951) so defines the word and this is the normal meaning which lawyers and judges attribute to the term.*fn6 Certainly, to modify an opinion or an order, is not necessarily to reduce it but simply to change it, irrespective of any quantitative result.

The petitioner's interpretation, in any event, actually supports and does not contradict the position we take. In its brief, AT&T argues that the term "modify" is often employed in statutes to empower an agency to relax its requirements: "This use of 'modify' -- as a synonym for relaxation -- is one of the most familiar of the dictionary meanings of the term. Cf. American Farm Lines v. Black Ball Freight Service, 397 U.S. 532, 539 [, 25 L. Ed. 2d 547, 90 S. Ct. 1288] (1970)." Brief for AT&T at 12. The case referred to does not involve any statutory construction problem concerning the word "modify," but simply refers to the ad hoc power of an agency to relax its procedural rules when required by justice. The language relied upon in the Supreme Court decision is excerpted from NLRB v. Monsanto Chem. Co., 205 F.2d 763, 764 (8th Cir. 1953). In the Monsanto case, the court upheld a National Labor Relations Board order despite the claim that the application for a review of an order of the Board's Regional Director had been filed six days after the time fixed by the Board's rule. The court held that the agency had the power "to relax or modify its procedural rules." As we have indicated, the American Farm Lines case is hardly in point here where the power to modify the time requirement is explicitly provided in the statute. However, it is significant that the modification found permissible in Monsanto actually involved an enlargement of the time to file. Thus, even assuming that AT&T is correct in its position that to modify means to relax, to reduce or to temper, the change effectuated here does just that. By increasing the notice period from 30 days to 60 days, the Commission is providing more time for the public to file objections to, and for itself to evaluate, new tariffs. It is thus easing the strictures of the present rule; it is relaxing its requirements just as the NLRB did in Monsanto. In sum, an extension of time may well constitute a reduction or easing of the requirements of the regulation. While this is obviously not in the economic interest of the petitioner, the prime responsibility of the agency is to the public and not to the protected monopolist. See GTE Serv. Corp. v. FCC, 474 F.2d 724, 730-32 (2d Cir. 1973).

We conclude, therefore, that the plain meaning of the word "modify" in the statute, no matter what thesaurus is consulted, permits the Commission to extend the notice period from 30 to 60 days as it has done in Rule 61.58.

III

AT&T argues further that the legislative history of Section 203(b) establishes that the Commission is not authorized to enlarge the notice requirement. In view of what has already been said here, there is no justification to resort to legislative history since the language of the statute is not ambiguous. The cases so holding are legion and we need cite only a few. Ex parte Collett, 337 U.S. 55, 61, 93 L. Ed. 1207, 69 S. Ct. 944 (1949); United States v. Blasius, 397 F.2d 203, 205-06 (2d Cir. 1968), petition for ...


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