F.C.C. v. Beach Communications, Inc. Case Brief

Summary of F.C.C. v. Beach Communications, Inc., 508 U.S. 307 (1993)

Facts: Congress enacted Cable Comm Act which provided for franchising of cable systems by local govt. A franchise is established through the definition of a cable system or “any facility designed to provide video programming to multiple subscribers through closed transmission paths." This does not include a cable system that serves only subscribers in 1 or more multiple dwelling units under common ownership or control, unless that facility uses a public right of way. The FCC determined that SMATV systems that serve multiple buildings are cable systems.

Issue(s): Whether the distinctions within the Cable Comm Act have a rational basis under the DP Cl of the 5th ?

Holding: Yes, there are plausible rationales unrelated to the use of public rights of way for regulating cable facilities serving separately owned and managed buildings.

Procedure: FCC ruled against Respondent SMATV operators who petitioned Ct of App for review–held–the Act’s exemption violates the implied EP guarantee of DP Cl. and no rational basis exists on the record. U.S.S.Ct. Reversed.

Rule(s): 5th Amend

Rationale: Whether in 5th or 14th Equal protection is not a license for Cts to judge the wisdom of legislation. If a statutory distinction neither proceeds along suspect lines nor infringes fundamental rights, it must be upheld if there is any conceivable set of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification. IF there are at least plausible reasons, the inquiry ends.

A classification in a statute has a strong presumption of validity and those attacking have Bo’P.

An absence of legislative facts has no significance in a rational basis analysis.

By excluding from the definition of cable system those facilities that serve common owners or operators without public rights of way, the Act outlines the bounds of the regulatory field. Congress had to draw the line somewhere and choose here. The distinction is Const’l. The basis for the distinction is plausible b/c of the FCC’s earlier rationale–the number of subscribers the Comm’n gave an exemption to cable facilities was less than 50; and under common ownership the costs of regulation would outweigh the benefits to consumers. Furthermore, the potential for effective monopoly power might justify regulating the class of SMATV systems that are not exempt.

CONCUR: It is reasonable to presume that Congress was motivated by an interest in allowing property owners to exercise freedom in the use of their own property. Legislation so motivated does not violate the sovereign’s duty to govern impartially.

Pl’s A: (SMATV) Congress did not intend common ownership as a substitution for small size of the franchise since it rejected the FCC 50 subsriber exemption by omitting it from the Act.

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