National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., Inc. v. Gulf Power Co., 534 U.S. 327, 15 (2002)

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Cite as: 534 U. S. 327 (2002)

Opinion of the Court

ated equipment." As noted above, respondents themselves concede that attachments of wires by wireless providers of telecommunications service are covered by the Act. See supra, at 339-340. It follows, in our view, that "associated equipment" which is indistinguishable from the "associated equipment" of wire-based telecommunications providers would also be covered. Respondents must demand a distinction between prototypical wire-based "associated equipment" and the wireless "associated equipment" to which they object. The distinction, they contend, is required by the economic rationale of the Act. The very reason for the Act is that—as to wires—utility poles constitute a bottleneck facility, for which utilities could otherwise charge monopoly rents. Poles, they say, are not a bottleneck facility for the siting of at least some, distinctively wireless equipment, like antennas. These can be located anywhere sufficiently high.

The economic analysis may be correct as far as it goes. Yet the proposed distinction—between prototypical wire-based "associated equipment" and the wireless "associated equipment" which allegedly falls outside of the rationale of the Act—finds no support in the text, and, based on our present understanding of the record before us, appears quite difficult to draw. Congress may have decided that the difficulties of drawing such a distinction would burden the orderly administration of the Act. In any event, the FCC was not unreasonable in declining to draw this distinction; and if the text were ambiguous, we would defer to its judgment on this technical question.


Respondents insist that "any attachment" cannot mean "any attachment." Surely, they say, the Act cannot cover billboards, or clotheslines, or anything else that a cable television system or provider of telecommunications service should fancy attaching to a pole. Since the literal reading is absurd, they contend, there must be a limiting principle.


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