Amicus Brief

Amicus brief of ICLE and Administrative Law Scholars, US Telecom v. FCC, D.C. Circuit


“The Order represents a substantial and unprecedented expansion of the FCC’s claimed authority. The Commission asserts authority to implement agency-defined policy by any means over the entire broadband communications infrastructure of the United States—in the words of FCC Chairman Wheeler, “[t]he most powerful network ever known to Man”1—under the auspices of FCC regulation; and it assumes the ability to regulate even beyond this already incredibly broad scope on an “ancillary” or “secondary” basis so long as such regulation has at least a Rube-Goldberg-like connection to broadband deployment. In the Order, the Commission claims authority that it has consistently disclaimed; it ignores this court’s holding in Verizon v. FCC, 740 F.3d 623 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (“Verizon”); and it bends to the point of breaking the statutory structure and purpose of the Communications and Telecommunications Acts. For all of these reasons, the Order should be rejected as exceeding the Commission’s statutory authority and as presenting and addressing major questions—questions of “deep economic and political significance,” see, e.g., King v. Burwell, No. 14-114, slip op. at 8 (2015)—that can only be addressed by Congress. See Randolph May, Chevron Decision’s Domain May Be Shrinking, THE HILL (Jul. 7, 2015), ary/247015-chevron-decisions-domain-may-be-shrinking.

The Commission’s authority is based in the 1934 Act, as modified by the 1996 Act. The general purpose of the 1934 Act was to establish and maintain a pervasively-regulated federal telephone monopoly built upon a relatively simple and static technology. This was the status quo for most of the 20th century, during which time the FCC had authority to regulate every aspect of the telecommunications industry—down to investment decisions, pricing, business plans, and even employment decisions. As technology progressed, however, competition found its way into various parts of the industry, upsetting the regulated monopoly structure. This ultimately led to passage of the 1996 Act, the general purpose of which was to deregulate the telecommunications industry—that is, to get the FCC out of the business of pervasive regulation and to rely, instead, on competition. This objective has proven effective: Over the past two decades, competition has driven hundreds of billions of dollars of private investment, the telecommunications capabilities available to all Americans have expanded dramatically, and competition—while still developing— has increased substantially. The range of technologies available to every American has exceeded expectations, at costs and in a timeframe previously unimagined, and at a pace that leads the world…”