FCC v. BEACH COMMUNICATIONS, INC.

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
92-603
Petitioner 
Federal Communications Commission
Respondent 
Beach Communications, Inc.
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the respondents)
(Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioners)
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Facts of the Case 

Section 602(7)(B) of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 provides that cable television systems be franchised by local governmental authorities, but exempts facilities serving "only subscribers in 1 or more multiple unit dwellings under common ownership, control, or management, unless such...facilities use any public right-of-way." When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that satellite master antenna television (SMATV) systems, which typically receive a satellite signal through a rooftop dish and then retransmits the signal by wire to units within a building or a building complex, are subject to the franchise requirement if their transmission lines interconnect separately owned and managed buildings or if its lines use or cross any public right-of-way, Beach Communications, Inc. and other SMATV operators petitioned the Court of Appeals for review. Among other things, the appellate court found that section 602(7) violated the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause because there was no rational basis for distinguishing between those facilities exempted by the statute and SMATV systems linking separately owned and managed buildings.

Question 

Is there a conceivable rational basis justifying the distinction between cable facilities that serve separately owned and managed buildings and those that serve one or more buildings under common ownership or management for purposes of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for FCC, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Communication Act of 1934

Yes. In a unanimous opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that section 602(7)(B)'s common-ownership distinction is constitutional because the statutory classification neither proceeded along suspect lines nor infringed fundamental constitutional rights. "As we have indicated," Justice Thomas concluded, "there are plausible rationales unrelated to the use of public rights-of-way for regulating cable facilities serving separately owned and managed buildings. The assumptions underlying these rationales may be erroneous, but the very fact that they are 'arguable' is sufficient, on rational-basis review, to 'immunize' the congressional choice from constitutional challenge." Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a concurring opinion.

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FCC v. BEACH COMMUNICATIONS, INC.. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 November 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1992/1992_92_603>.
FCC v. BEACH COMMUNICATIONS, INC., The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1992/1992_92_603 (last visited November 25, 2014).
"FCC v. BEACH COMMUNICATIONS, INC.," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed November 25, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1992/1992_92_603.