FCC Flexes Muscle: T-Mobile to Pay $48 Million for Failing to Disclose Limits on ‘Unlimited’ Data

stock_12192012_0878Showing that it’s not about to slow down its aggressive enforcement of its open Internet regulations, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a settlement yesterday resolving claims that T-Mobile USA Inc. (T-Mobile) failed to adequately disclose material restrictions on T-Mobile and MetroPCS data plans that were advertised as “unlimited” from August 2014 to June 2015.  Specifically, the FCC’s investigation found that T‑Mobile failed to adequately disclose that it would significantly slow the speed of its customers’ “unlimited” data after they reached preset, undisclosed thresholds for data usage.

The FCC’s settlement requires T-Mobile to pay a total of $48 million. It further requires T-Mobile to clearly and conspicuously disclose any material limitations on the amount and speed of mobile data for its “unlimited” plans, and includes reporting and training obligations.

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Citing an “Enforcement Gap,” FTC Seeks Rehearing En Banc of Dismissal of AT&T “Throttling” Case

On October 13, 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit requesting a rehearing en banc of the court’s decision in the FTC’s case against AT&T alleging that the company dramatically reduced – or “throttled” – data speeds for certain customers on unlimited data plans once those customers had used a certain level of data.  A three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit determined in August 2016 that the case should be dismissed because AT&T was not subject to an FTC enforcement action due to the company’s status as a common carrier.  As we noted in a previous blog post, this case could reset the jurisdictional boundaries between the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with respect to phone companies, broadband providers and other common carriers.

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Comcast Reaches Record $2.3 Million Settlement with FCC Over “Negative Option Billing”

Blog 10-12Yesterday, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau reached a $2.3 million settlement with Comcast Corporation (Comcast) to resolve an investigation into whether Comcast wrongfully charged cable TV customers for services and equipment that those customers never authorized.  This prohibited practice, which the Commission refers to as “negative option billing”, is cable’s functional equivalent to the telco practice commonly referred to as “cramming.”

Notably, according to the FCC’s Office of Media Relations, the Comcast Consent Decree contains “the largest civil penalty assessed from a cable operator by the FCC.”

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FCC Releases Third Biennial Report to Congress on Communications Accessibility for People with Disabilities

On October 7, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the third iteration of its Biennial Report to Congress on the state of communications technology accessibility for people with disabilities as required by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA). To inform the conclusions in the 2016 CVAA Biennial Report, the FCC sought input by way of two Public Notices, one general and another outlining its tentative findings. One of the findings was that 31% of the requests for dispute assistance (RDA) involved lack of accessibility features in mobile phones provided by Lifeline service providers.

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FCC Highlights Accessibility Challenges for Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities

On October 6, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a White Paper entitled “Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities: Barriers to and Solutions for Accessible Information and Communication Technologies” containing best practices for equipment manufacturers and service providers looking to comply with the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act and the FCC’s accessibility rules. This release teed up FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s remarks later that day at the Coleman Institute Conference on Cognitive Disabilities and Technology. These events come after the FCC hosted its first-ever Summit and Expo on Telecommunications Needs of People with Cognitive Disabilities in October 2015 and demonstrate a strong focus of the FCC on making sure communications equipment and services are accessible to people with all kinds of disabilities.

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FCC Chairman Outlines Proposal for New Broadband Privacy Rules

On October 6, 2016, Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) Chairman Tom Wheeler published a blog entry on the Commission’s website outlining proposed privacy rules for broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The proposed rules are scheduled to be considered by the full Commission at its monthly meeting on October 27, 2016. These rules come after the Commission received substantial public comment on its March notice of proposed rulemaking (discussed in an earlier blog post) from stakeholders representing consumer, public interest, industry, academics, and other government entities including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The proposed rules appear to soften several elements of the Commission’s initial proposal, which received considerable industry criticism.

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FCC Authorizes Use of Call Blocking Technologies by Telephone Service Providers to Block Spoofed Calls

On September 30th, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) released a brief Public Notice in which it clarified that telephone service providers (including traditional, wireless and VoIP providers) are permitted to block calls from a particular phone number if the subscriber to that phone number “requests call blocking in order to prevent its telephone number from being spoofed.”  Importantly, the guidance allows the originating subscriber to request blocking, in order to prevent confusion resulting from spoofing of the subscriber’s number.  In releasing this guidance, the Bureau stated not only that “the spoofed number’s subscriber has a legitimate interest in stopping the spoofed calls,” but also that “consumers can be presumptively deemed to have consented to the blocking of [such] calls.”  The Commission had included a similar interpretation about call blocking technology (albeit not as explicit) in its 2015 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) Omnibus Order, and the Bureau stated that its intention in releasing the Public Notice was to spur the development and deployment of such technologies.

The Bureau cautioned that the Public Notice “does not disturb providers’ general obligation to complete calls” and that carriers will be expected to “take all reasonable steps to ensure that calls are not mistakenly blocked for reasons that may include reassigned numbers.”  However, it did not clarify or give examples of any such measures, and in fact acknowledged that further guidance on this point may be necessary in the future.

The Bureau’s guidance comes just weeks after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced the formation of the the “Robocall Strike Force,” which is set to release its initial recommendations to the Commission on October 19th for solutions to prevent, detect, and filter autodialed calls.  In light of the Chairman’s vigorous TCPA agenda in recent months, we expect the Commission to continue pushing the telecommunications industry to take action on blocking techniques and other measures to reduce the number of autodialed calls to consumers for the remainder of his term.

Microsoft and Partners Seek FCC Approval to Use TV White Spaces to Extend E-Rate-Supported Broadband Services to Close the Homework Gap

webinar_connect_imageA potential solution to the so-called “homework gap” – otherwise known as the limited ability of low-income students in rural or underserved areas to access a broadband connection at home – is the subject of a petition submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) by an innovative public-private partnership and is now open for public comment.

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TCPA Quarterly – Fall 2016

This podcast is the first in what will be a regular series devoted to covering noteworthy developments relating to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). This series will cover decisions from the FCC and federal courts, as well as any TCPA-related activity on Capitol Hill. In this podcast, partners Steve Augustino and Alysa Hutnik and associate Jennifer Wainwright start off by discussing two recent FCC orders related to calls made by government contractors or for the purposes of collecting debts owed to the federal government. The panel then reviews a declaratory ruling issued this summer that loosened TCPA restrictions on calls placed by schools and utility companies. The podcast concludes with an overview of TCPA-related things to watch out for over the next few months. To listen to the episode, please click here.

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FCC Regulatory Fees Order for FY 2016 Released; September 27 Payment Deadline Set


On September 6, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission released a Public Notice announcing a payment deadline for annual regulatory fees of no later than 11:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time on September 27, 2016.  Although the regulatory fees will not officially become effective until published in the Federal Register, entities that are required to pay fees have discretion to submit payments at any time before the deadline.  Most federal licensees and other regulated entities must pay one or more categories of regulatory fees which are designed to offset costs associated with the FCC’s enforcement, public service, international, policy, and rulemaking activities.  Fact sheets detailing the types of fees, fee codes, payment methods and options can be found on the FCC’s website.

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