Enforcement Action in Focus: FCC Imposes Potential Liability on Technology Platforms for Involvement in Unlawful Robocalls

On July 26, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) released the text of the Forfeiture Order adopted at the Commission’s July 2017 open meeting against Dialing Services, LLC for enabling unauthorized prerecorded message calls (a/k/a “robocalls”) by third parties to wireless phones in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).  The Forfeiture Order is significant for a number of reasons – not the least of which was Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s strong dissent questioning the action’s legal and policy bases.  This marks the first time that the FCC has imposed liability on a company that enables robocalling campaigns by third parties, even when the company does not directly create the robocall messages or direct who will receive the robocalls.  Moreover, the Commission’s use of a different (and arguably lesser) standard than the “high degree of involvement” standard applicable to fax broadcaster liability could trigger a new wave of litigation for calling platform vendors and other applications that enable or permit mass calling or texting.

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New Podcast: Pai the Enforcer

When Ajit Pai was a Commissioner, he was a frequent critic of the FCC’s enforcement practice.  Now that Chairman Pai has led the FCC for six months, his approach to enforcement is coming into better focus.  In this episode of Kelley Drye’s Full Spectrum podcast, Kelley Drye enforcement attorneys Steve Augustino and Brad Currier discuss what we know and what we’re yet to learn about Pai, the Enforcer. To listen to this episode, please click here.

What to Expect at the FCC’s August 2017 Open Meeting

Below is Kelley Drye’s preview of the items under consideration at the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC’s or Commission’s) upcoming monthly Open Meeting, to be held on August 3, 2017. Consistent with the trend since he took over the Commission, Chairman Ajit Pai continues to schedule a large number of items.  Indeed, for the seventh month in a row, the Commission has six or more items on its agenda.  This month, the agenda consists of eight items and has several items taking concrete steps to resolve proceedings or important questions presented to the Commission.  The areas covered skew heavily toward broadband deployment, with a CAF Phase II item, a Mobility Fund item and several spectrum items.  In addition, the Commission again has enforcement items on the agenda:  one (unidentified) item on the regular agenda and a one-item consent agenda involving an additional (unidentified) enforcement action.

The most significant agenda items are summarized below. Note: these brief summaries are based on draft items, which may differ from the final items released following the Open Meeting.  Please check with Kelley Drye after the meeting for more information on the items below.

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NTIA Holds Virtual Meeting of Multistakeholder Process on Internet of Things Security Upgradability and Patching

On July 18, 2017, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) hosted a virtual meeting of its multistakeholder process to address Internet of Things (“IoT”) patching and security upgrades.  The July 18th meeting represents the fourth gathering of multistakeholders in this process.

During the July 18th meeting, four working groups presented: (1) the Communicating Upgradability and Improving Transparency working group; (2) the Incentives, Barriers, and Adoption working group; (3) the Standards working group; and (4) the Technical Capabilities and Patching Expectations working group.

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Commissioner O’Rielly Again Targets Pirate Broadcasters and Their Supporters to Walk the Enforcement Plank

Commissioner Michael O’Reilly called for stronger enforcement action to combat unauthorized “pirate” radio broadcasters in a statement before the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on July 25, 2017.  The Commissioner’s recommendations came during the Subcommittee’s hearing on draft legislation to reauthorize the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”).  While the reauthorization bill does not focus on pirate enforcement and the issue normally is seen as non-controversial, it is a longstanding priority for the Commissioner.  In his statement, Commissioner O’Rielly not only advocated for increased fines against pirates, but also penalties against third parties that support pirates, such as building owners housing pirate stations or pirate station advertisers.  While it remains unlikely that the recommendations will result in near-term legislative action, Commissioner O’Rielly’s statement sends a clear message that pirate broadcasters and their supporters remain in his enforcement crosshairs.

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July FCC Meeting Recap: Wireless Microphones Order on Recon and Further Notice: A Mixed Bag for Manufacturers and Users

On July 13, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) revisited the regulatory framework applicable to wireless microphones in several important ways.  The Order on Reconsideration addressed petitions for reconsideration pertaining to licensed and unlicensed wireless microphone operations under the 2015 Wireless Microphones Order and TV Bands Part 15 Order.  The 2015 Wireless Microphones Order sought to provide licensed wireless microphones users with access to different spectrum bands such as VHF channels, the 600 MHz duplex gap, and the 1435-1525 MHz aeronautical mobile telemetry (“AMT”) band to address the needs of various types of wireless microphone users, particularly in wake of the broadcast incentive auction.  In the TV Bands Part 15 Order, the Commission established rules on a broad range of issues pertaining to unlicensed operations in the television bands, the 600 MHz guard bands and duplex gap, the 600 MHz service band, and Channel 37.  The results of the Wireless Microphones Order on Reconsideration will be welcomed in some circles by manufacturers and bemoaned in others.  Continue Reading

July 2017 FCC Meeting Recap: FCC Adopts Major Changes to Approval Procedures for Many RF Devices, E-Labeling, Importation Regulations, and Other Equipment Authorization Rules

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”), at its July 13, 2017, Open Meeting updated its equipment authorization procedures and rules in a number of ways that will be of great interest to everyone in the supply chain for both licensed and unlicensed radio frequency (“RF”) equipment, including manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers.  The First Report and Order changes the regulatory landscape applicable to the approval, labeling, and other compliance matters for RF equipment in a variety of ways that will take place immediately upon publication of the First Report and Order in the Federal Register except that some will be delayed to the extent they implicate Office of Management and Budget, OMB, review of new or modified information collection requirements.

We examine the First Report and Order and the principal changes in more detail in the referenced advisory.  Continue Reading

July 2017 FCC Meeting Recap: FCC Approves Expanded Rules for Radar Services in the 76-81 GHz Band and Plans to Phase Out Other Vehicular Radar Operations

In its July Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) adopted new rules in a Report and Order (“R&O”) to allow a more flexible, streamlined approach for certain radar operations in the 76-81 GHz band. The R&O modifies the applicable rules to increase access for enhanced safety vehicular, fixed, and mobile radar applications to all of the contiguous spectrum in the 76-81 GHz band.

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July 2017 FCC Meeting Recap: Commissioners Adopt Second Robocall NOI to Examine Reassigned Number Database Issues

On July 13, 2017, the three FCC Commissioners voted in favor of a Second Notice of Inquiry (NOI) to gather feedback on using numbering information to create comprehensive list that businesses can use to identify telephone numbers that have been reassigned from a consumer that consented to receiving calls to another consumer.  It also asks whether the Commission should “consider a safe harbor from [Telephone Consumer Protection Act] violations” for robocallers who use the reassigned number resource.  This action is the latest of several TCPA rulemaking actions initiated by Chairman Pai since he assumed leadership of the FCC.  While the action is a NOI – which is a precursor to proposed rules – the action signals the importance the new Chairman has placed on reducing the number of unwanted calls consumers receive.

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July FCC Meeting Recap: Commissioners Open Proceeding to Examine Call Authentication Techniques to Combat Unwanted Calls

At the FCC’s open meeting on July 13, 2017, the Commissioners voted in favor of a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on call authentication frameworks to allow telephone service providers to identify fraudulent calls.  The authentication procedures are intended to allow subscribers and carriers to know that callers are who they say they are.  Initial comments in response to the NOI are due on August 14, 2017 and replies are due on September 13, 2017.

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