February 25, 1999
|Re:||Declaratory Ruling in CC Docket No. 96-98 and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in CC Docket No. 99-xx, Implementation of the Local Competition Provisions in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (CC Docket No. 96-98) and Inter-Carrier Compensation for ISP-Bound Traffic (CC Docket No. 99-68)|
I write separately to explain the bases upon which I concur in this action. Specifically, based on the long inquiry that has led to our action today, I agree with the majority that LEC-to-LEC Internet-bound traffic is properly classified as jurisdictionally interstate. Because of this agreement, and in light of the serious governmental interests implicated, I believe it is appropriate for the Commission to consider whether the current method of determining intercarrier compensation for this traffic at the state level continues to be appropriate. I believe, however, that in a well-meaning effort to preserve existing state decisions regarding reciprocal compensation for this traffic, we have strayed into areas best left to state authorities and may have unwittingly muddled our jurisdictional analysis.
As the attached decision correctly points out, a number of the Commission's precedents indicate that the jurisdictional nature of communications should be determined by the end points of the communication (i.e., by looking at the entire communication as "one call"). I believe this method of evaluating jurisdiction remains valid and important, especially considering the growing number of creative and complex methods for transmitting and transporting communications. Indeed, the challenge of packet networks is that they make it nearly impossible (at present) to trace accurately the route of a single communication to its destination, especially given that each packet of which the communication is comprised may take a different route before reassembling at the intended destination. These and other technological developments will continue to frustrate traditional geographic boundaries.
Our decision that LEC-to-LEC Internet-bound traffic is interstate in nature fundamentally calls into question a number of state decisions that applied reciprocal compensation to LEC-to-LEC Internet-bound traffic based primarily or exclusively on the view, which we herein reject, that this traffic is local. I agree with the majority that this conclusion does not, in itself, dictate how or whether carriers of this traffic should be compensated, nor does this conclusion determine whether this Commission or state commissions should establish compensation arrangements. I likewise agree that not all state decisions to apply reciprocal compensation to this traffic share this basis, and that, as a general matter, there may be other bases upon which state commissions could continue these compensation schemes even after the action we take here.
But even given the fact that our decision today does not necessarily undermine each of the state decisions, I think the most prudent course would have been for us to decline to speculate on what bases there may be for upholding those decisions. The decisions themselves are not before us and it is properly for state authorities to explore the ramifications of our action today on those decisions. Furthermore, having reviewed a number of the state decisions in this area, I am persuaded that the underlying facts, analytical underpinnings and applicable law vary enormously from state to state. We cannot, even in the most carefully worded or sweeping dicta, address all of these variations meaningfully.
That said, I might support some of the majority's suggested rationales for preserving existing state decisions, but cannot embrace others because I am unpersuaded either that they are sensitive to the wide variations in the facts, analysis and legal contexts or that the benefits of such rationales substantially exceed their potential risks. I put in the first category the view that state decisions applying reciprocal compensation to LEC-to-LEC Internet-bound traffic should be preserved where the state or reviewing court finds that the parties agreed to compensate each other for this traffic in this way. Sections 251 and 252 of the Act express a clear preference for negotiations as the primary method for carriers to determine the terms of interconnection, and the Act allows parties to agree even to terms that do not satisfy the requirements of these sections. Thus, I firmly believe that if a state commission or court interpreting state law determines that carriers agreed to apply reciprocal compensation to this traffic, those carriers should be held to the terms of their agreement. Furthermore, I have no strong objection to our dicta to the extent it suggests that state commissions or reviewing courts may identify other justifications for preserving state decisions to apply reciprocal compensation to this traffic under state law. If we had included only this rationale as a basis upon which states could uphold their existing decisions, my concerns with our decision today would have been significantly reduced.
But rather than merely acknowledging generally the possibility of state law bases on which we believe such agreements can be sustained, we have chosen to proffer other specific bases. I am concerned, however, that the other theories proffered here are legally and analytically unsound, may prospectively hinder our ability to address the public policy concerns that led us to assert jurisdiction here in the first place, and yet do very little retroactively to preserve state-sanctioned agreements. As such, I decline to subscribe to certain of the dicta in our decision.
First, I decline to subscribe to any suggestion that the state decisions could be preserved based on the theory that we had essentially delegated responsibility to state commissions to approve or determine compensation arrangements for LEC-to-LEC Internet-bound traffic. Unquestionably, we have in the past declined to apply certain types of existing federal compensation or charges to traffic flowing to enhanced service providers (ESPs) from individual LECs. As the decision appears to acknowledge, however, we have never made a conscious, affirmative choice to defer in similar fashion to local compensation measures for the situation we face here (i.e., intercarrier compensation for LEC-to-LEC Internet-bound traffic). I do not question that a state may have understandably analogized the ESP precedent to this case. But no matter how apt the analogy to the facts before us now, one cannot assume delegated authority by analogy. Thus, I cannot support any suggestion that the Commission has heretofore delegated authority to state commissions to impose reciprocal compensation on this traffic.
Second, I decline to subscribe to the dicta in this decision to the extent it suggests that the state decisions can be preserved because state commissions and this Commission share jurisdiction for implementing the sections 251 and 252 of the Act.
I fully agree that the states, to the extent they acted pursuant to their statutory obligation to arbitrate and approve interconnection agreements, acted reasonably in the absence of a clear federal rule. Nonetheless, I fail to see how such reasonableness will be a defense to claims that our jurisdictional analysis conflicts with that of a state. Such reasonableness does little to preserve those state decisions most likely to be disturbed by our "one call" jurisdictional analysis, namely, decisions based primarily or exclusively on a "two call" theory. In short, I think touching on the issue of shared jurisdiction muddles our conclusion that there is federal jurisdiction with respect to these questions.(1) I remain open to considering any reasonable compensation scheme (including delegating authority to states) but would have preferred to do so on the basis of our interstate authority, rather than on shared jurisdiction.
In closing, I wish to note that I would have preferred to avoid making tentative conclusions in the Notice section of today's decision. Indeed, in light of the complexity of the analysis, the importance of the issues and the long inquiry leading up to this decision, some may find it strange that our tentative conclusion in favor of state-level arbitrations would leave the method of establishing intercarrier compensation for this traffic virtually unchanged. I encourage commenters to provide information on both sides of this important issue so that we can assess more fully which compensation scheme is best.
For these reasons, I cannot fully support our decision today, and thus I concur in it. I wish to commend, however, my colleagues and our dedicated staff for their diligence and patience in wrestling with these knotty legal and policy issues.
1. 1 Any shared jurisdiction theory raises certain questions, such as: what are the limits of federal authority in crafting a compensation regime? Although the recent Supreme Court decision in AT&T Corp. v. Iowa Utilities Board begins to answer this question, the Court's answer may not be entirely complete. For example, in affirming the Commission's pricing jurisdiction, the Court states: "While it is true that the 1996 Act entrusts state commissions with the job of approving interconnection agreements . . . and granting exemptions to rural LECs, . . . these assignments . . . do not logically preclude the Commission's issuance of rules to guide the state commission judgments." AT&T Corp. v. Iowa Utils. Bd., __ U.S. __, 1999 WL 24569 (January 25, 1999) (No. 97-826) (opinion of the court, section II) (emphasis added). Other than affirming the approach taken in the Commission's underlying order, however, the Court provided little guidance regarding the level of specificity with which the Commission can "guide the state commission judgments."