Settled No More: An Administrative Agency May Overturn Prior Judicial Interpretation of a Statute within its Jurisdiction so long as the Statutory Language is Ambiguous


The Supreme Court of the United States held that (1) If a statute is ambiguous, and the implementing agency’s construction is reasonable, Chevron requires federal courts to accept the agency’s interpretation, even if the agency’s interpretation differs from prior judicial construction of the statute; and (2) the FCC’s classification of Cable Modem Service as an Information Service rather than Telecommunications Service under Title II of the Communications Act was lawful and therefore subject to deference by the courts. Title II of the Communications Act of 19341 requires all providers of “telecommunications service” to comply with strict common-carrier regulations. In March 2002, the Federal Communications Commission (hereafter, “the FCC”) declared that cable modem service is not a “telecommunications service,” but rather an “information service” subject to far less regulation under the Communications Act. This declaration came two years after a Ninth Circuit judicial construction found precisely the opposite; that cable modem service is a “telecommunications service” as defined within the statute. In this case, the Court was asked to determine whose view should prevail.
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