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Hush-a-Phone v. FCC

Hush-a-Phone v. FCC

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Hush-A-Phone v. United States, 238 F.2d 266 (D.C. Cir. 1956) was a seminal ruling in United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 telecommunications law decided by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit known informally as the D.C. Circuit, is the federal appellate court for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Appeals from the D.C. Circuit, as with all the U.S. Courts of Appeals, are heard on a...

. Hush-A-Phone Corporation marketed a small, cup-like device which mounted on the speaking party's phone, reducing the risk of conversations being overheard and increasing sound fidelity for the listening party. AT&T
AT&T Inc. is an American multinational telecommunications corporation headquartered in Whitacre Tower, Dallas, Texas, United States. It is the largest provider of mobile telephony and fixed telephony in the United States, and is also a provider of broadband and subscription television services...

, citing the Communications Act of 1934
Communications Act of 1934
The Communications Act of 1934 is a United States federal law, enacted as Public Law Number 416, Act of June 19, 1934, ch. 652, 48 Stat. 1064, by the 73rd Congress, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, codified as Chapter 5 of Title 47 of the United States Code, et seq. The Act replaced the...

, which stated in part that the company had the right to make charges and dictate "the classifications, practices, and regulations affecting such charges," claimed the right to "forbid attachment to the telephone of any device 'not furnished by the telephone company.'" During this era, the phones were leased from the phone company, not owned by the consumer.

Initially, the Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commission
The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency of the United States government, created, Congressional statute , and with the majority of its commissioners appointed by the current President. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the...

 (FCC) found in AT&T's favor; it found that the device was a "foreign attachment" subject to AT&T control and that unrestricted use of the device could, in the commission's opinion, result in a general deterioration of the quality of telephone service.


The court's decision, which exonerated Hush-A-Phone and prohibited further interference by AT&T toward Hush-A-Phone users, stated that AT&T's prohibition of the device was not "just, fair, and reasonable," as required under the Communications Act of 1934, as the device "does not physically impair any of the facilities of the telephone companies," nor did it "affect more than the conversation of the user."

This victory for Hush-A-Phone is widely considered a watershed moment in the development of a secondary market for terminal equipment
Terminal equipment
In telecommunication, the term terminal equipment has the following meanings:* Communications equipment at either end of a communications link, used to permit the stations involved to accomplish the mission for which the link was established....

. It and the related Carterfone
The Carterfone is a device invented by Thomas Carter. It manually connects a two-way mobile radio system to the public switched telephone network , making it a direct predecessor to today's autopatch....

 decision are seen as precursors to the entry of MCI Communications
MCI Communications
MCI Communications Corp. was an American telecommunications company that was instrumental in legal and regulatory changes that led to the breakup of the AT&T monopoly of American telephony and ushered in the competitive long-distance telephone industry. It was headquartered in Washington,...

 and the development of more pervasive telecom competition.

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