• United States
Senior Editor

Verizon, lawmakers applaud Supreme Court decision

Jan 14, 20043 mins

WASHINGTON – A U.S. Supreme Court decision this week prohibiting some class-action antitrust lawsuits against regional Bell telephone companies will save them a lot of “litigation and distraction,” according to a lawyer for Verizon Communications.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out a class-action lawsuit against Verizon for allegedly violating 1996 Telecommunications Act provisions requiring the regional Bells to open up parts of their networks to competitors. The court, in a unanimous decision, reversed a U.S. appeals court ruling letting telephone service customers sue regional Bells for not providing competing carriers with enough access to their networks.

Verizon would have eventually won the case brought by the Law Offices of Curtis V. Trinko, a New York firm, predicted John Thorne, senior vice president and general counsel for Verizon. “We actually have a really good record of opening up our local markets,” he said.

But the Supreme Court decision could potentially save the regional Bells a lot of time in court, Thorne said. “It’s good that a lot of cases that have been filed on the same theory will go away,” Thorne said. “It’s good that we’ll go back to focusing on our customers.”

Verizon had faced about 14 similar class-action lawsuits, with the three other regional Bells facing about 20 more, Thorne said.

In the case under consideration by the Supreme Court , Trinko sued Verizon, accusing the company of providing worse service to customers of competitors that use Verizon’s network than it did to its own customers. Trinko, a customer of AT&T, argued that Verizon violated U.S. antitrust laws with its actions.

Trinko did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment. An AT&T representative referred questions to industry association CompTel/ASCENT Alliance. CompTel CEO H. Russell Frisby said in a statement his group was disappointed in the decision but noted the Supreme Court did not reject all antitrust lawsuits against the regional Bells.

“Experience under the Telecom Act… confirms that the regulatory structure has not been fully up to the task of eliminating monopolies that formed during nearly a century of government protection,” Frisby said in his statement. “That is why Congress, we believe, intended the antitrust laws to apply in precisely this context and why we are so disappointed by this decision.”

The Supreme Court, in a decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia, argued that courts don’t have the expertise to referee antitrust cases involving complicated network-sharing disputes. The 1996 Telecommunications Act sets out adequate rules, Scalia wrote. “The 1996 Act’s extensive provision for access makes it unnecessary to impose a judicial doctrine of forced access,” he wrote.

Two U.S. congressmen cheered the Supreme Court decision. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) argued that the 1996 law “established a very comprehensive regime governing the relationship” between regional Bells and competing carriers.

The decision should send a “clear signal” that complaints about network sharing are properly addressed to the Federal Communications Commission and state public utility commissions, Tauzin said in a statement.

The Supreme Court should be commended for not expanding antitrust law, added Representative Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat and member of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.

“Congress enacted the landmark Telecommunications Act to open local markets to competition, and, as the Court recognized, the comprehensive regulatory scheme administered under the act is more than adequate to accomplish that objective,” Boucher said in a statement. “Adding a new layer of antitrust liability for regulatory infractions would be inappropriate.”