What Is the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)

The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) regulated the economics and services of specified carriers engaged in transportation between states from 1887 to 1995. It was the first regulatory commission established in the U.S. Originally established to regulate the railroads; it had jurisdiction over all common carriers except airplanes by 1940. The agency was terminated at the end of 1995, with its functions either having been transferred to other bodies or in some cases rendered obsolete by deregulation.

Understanding the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)

The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was established in 1887, following increasing public indignation in the 1880s over abuses and malpractices by the railroads. In particular, there had been vociferous complaints about rates charged by railroads on routes on which there was no competition. By 1910, the ICC had been granted the authority by Congress and the Supreme Court to set rates and profit levels of railroads, and to organize mergers; its jurisdiction had also been extended to include sleeping car companies, oil pipelines, ferries, terminals, and bridges. The ICC's jurisdiction gradually extended until it covered all interstate common carriers other than aircraft by 1940. Its enforcement powers to set rates were also extended, as were its investigative powers to determine what fair rates were. The ICC was further given the task of consolidating railroad systems and managing labor disputes in interstate transport. The ICC also enforced Supreme Court decisions on desegregation of the railroads in the 1950s and 1960s.

Regulatory control over telephone, telegraph, wireless and cable was also given to the ICC in 1910, and it exercised authority over these until the establishment of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1934.

In 1966, the ICC's safety functions were transferred to the Department of Transportation (which was established in that year), but the ICC retained its rate-setting and regulatory functions. A general move toward deregulation subsequently saw the ICC's authority over rates and routes in both rail and trucking ended by the Staggers Rail Act and Motor Carriers Act in 1980, which deregulated these industries. Most ICC control over interstate trucking was abandoned in 1994, with its powers having been transferred to the Federal Highway Administration and the newly-created Surface Transportation Board (both under the auspices of the Department of Transportation), and the Commission was subsequently shut down in 1995.