The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREENE
On October 18, 1983, the Federal Communications Commission issued an order suspending from January 1 to April 3, 1984 the access charge tariffs filed by the Operating Companies. On October 28, 1983, AT&T advised the Court that it and the Operating Companies had agreed on contracts to govern the compensation which the local companies would receive from AT&T for their services to that company during the three-month period of the suspension. On the same date, the Bell Atlantic Telephone Companies filed a motion requesting that the Court clarify their obligations under the decree in light of the FCC order, and that the Court reject as inconsistent with the decree the proposed replacement financial arrangement based on division of revenues procedures. In Bell Atlantic's view, that arrangement would continue a partnership between AT&T and the Operating Companies, and Bell Atlantic proposed that the Court prescribe instead an arrangement under which the Operating Companies would be compensated by AT&T in a manner similar to that required by the plan of reorganization for shared network facilities.
On November 1, 1983, the Court requested the parties to brief the issues raised by the Bell Atlantic motion and the AT&T plan. Ten days later, Bell Atlantic requested leave to withdraw its earlier motion, advising the Court that it had come to an agreement in principle with AT&T whereby AT&T would be charged access rates based on the tariffs before the FCC
which would provide the Operating Companies a return of 11.5 percent on their investment devoted to providing access services to AT&T. Several of the intervenors object to this new arrangement as they did to the previous one, and on November 22, 1983, the Court held a hearing to consider the issues raised by these developments.
The motion and the request for a withdrawal raise two questions: (1) whether the interim arrangement between AT&T and the Operating Companies is consistent with the decree, and (2) if it is not, whether the Court should nevertheless grant a waiver of the decree's requirements so that the arrangement may be implemented.
Several of the parties argue that the AT&T-Operating Company arrangement is consistent with and not violative of the decree on the following basis. Section B(1) of Appendix B of the decree requires the Operating Companies to file access charge tariffs "to become effective on the effective date of the reorganization," but the decree is silent as to any approval of these tariffs by the Federal Communications Commission. The appropriate tariffs having been duly filed, it is thus suggested, there is no violation: the FCC's failure to act is irrelevant.
Specific provision for the establishment of valid -- that is, FCC-approved -- tariffs prior to divestiture was not included in the decree, as drafted by the parties and as modified and approved by the Court, presumably because no one considered it a real possibility in January 1982, when the decree was filed with the Court and thus made generally available, that two years later, in January 1984, the Commission would still not have acted on the tariff filings. Accordingly, conscious of the responsibilities of the Federal Communications Commission and wishing to avoid, insofar as possible,
any interference with those responsibilities, the parties and the Court saw no real need for making specific provision in the decree beyond the filing of the tariffs.
Throughout the period when the Court has been responsible for passing on and construing the decree, it has consistently regarded as paramount the decree's purposes
whenever the language itself permitted more than one interpretation.
The Court would not be justified now, with respect to the present controversy, to exalt form over substance any more than it has in the past. To test that proposition, one might consider, for example, the theoretical possibility that the FCC, for one reason or another, refused ever to approve access tariffs or that it approved them only after years of delay. It is quite obvious that the consequent continuing partnership between AT&T and the Operating Companies would strike at the heart of the decree, vitiate its fundamental purposes, and thus could not, consistently with those purposes, be sanctioned by the courts.
To be sure, we are faced here not with that extreme situation but only with a delay of three months' duration. That circumstance, however, bears only on the appropriateness of the Court's grant of a waiver, not on the question whether a continuing post-divestiture relationship between AT&T and the Bell System companies on a basis other than tariff is violative of the decree.
The delay ordered by the FCC expires on April 3, 1984. The Court is advised by the parties that, in any event, (1) the Commission must allow the access tariffs filed by the Operating Companies, or some variation thereof, to become effective on April 15, 1984, inasmuch as the ENFIA tariffs which are based on voluntary agreements, expire on that date;
and (2) the Operating Company tariffs will take effect on May 1, 1984, under a provision of law which does not permit the FCC to suspend tariffs for more than five months.
The Court has not investigated or considered whether the Commission has the authority under its enabling statutes to ignore these deadlines and thus to prolong the present impasse. The Court assumes that the Commission will not do so, first, because that agency, like this Court, is surely sensitive to the need for everyone, particularly those in governmental authority, to minimize any existing uncertainties and their duration,
and second, because the Commission, like this Court in this and in past instances,