Enforcement, Investigations & Audits

On May 30, 2018, the Commission issued a Notice of Apparent Liability (“NAL”) proposing a total penalty of $590,380 against a company for marketing noncompliant radio frequency (“RF”) devices in apparent violation of the agency’s equipment marketing rules.  The allegations in the NAL provide a textbook example of how a company that becomes aware of a violation relating to products subject to the Commission equipment authorization procedures should not respond.  The NAL was issued against Bear Down Brands, LLC, dba Pure Enrichment (“Pure Enrichment”), a Delaware company, in connection with fourteen models of the company’s consumer-oriented electronic personal hygiene and wellness devices it markets and imports, all of which were Part 15 or Part 18 unintentional radiators.  The NAL alleges that the devices were noncompliant because they lacked proper equipment authorization, failed to make required user manual disclosures, and/or did not have compliant FCC labels.

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In the largest forfeiture ever imposed by the agency, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a $120 million fine against Adrian Abramovich and the companies he controlled for placing over 96 million “spoofed” robocalls as part of a campaign to sell third-party vacation packages.  The case has received significant attention as an example of the growing issue of spoofed robocalls, with lawmakers recently grilling Mr. Abramovich about his operations.  The item took the lead spot at the agency’s May meeting and is emblematic of the Pai FCC’s continued focus on illegal robocalls as a top enforcement priority.  While questions remain regarding the FCC’s ability to collect the unprecedented fine, there is no question that the FCC and Congress intend to take a hard look at robocalling issues this year, with significant reforms already teed up for consideration.

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In 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report focusing on the Lifeline program. Tucked away in that report was a significant discussion of Universal Service Fund (USF) contributor audits that has received little attention. In a recent episode of Kelley Drye’s Full Spectrum podcast, Partner Steve Augustino and Special Counsel Denise Smith discussed

The Rural Health Care Program (“RHCP”) is sure to face increased scrutiny in the wake of a $18.7 million proposed fine issued by the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) at its January meeting against a telecommunications reseller for allegedly defrauding the program.  The FCC claims that DataConnex, one of the top five recipients of RHCP funding, violated the program’s competitive bidding rules and submitted falsified documents to increase the support it received.  The FCC recently ramped up enforcement involving the RHCP and proposed significant reforms last month aimed at improving oversight and deterring fraud.  The FCC’s actions potentially foreshadow additional restrictions on the use of RHCP consultants and the amount of available funding.


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E-Rate fraud is back in the spotlight following the indictment of a Dallas charter school CEO and the owner of a contracting company for an alleged kickback scheme resulting in over $300,000 in illegal subsidies. Federal prosecutors stated that the pair violated the E-Rate program’s competitive bidding requirements and submitted fraudulent invoices to the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”).  The indictment comes on the heels of major FCC settlements and enforcement actions against educational institutions and service providers for alleged E-Rate violations.  FCC Chairman Pai has repeatedly criticized the administration of the E-Rate program and the indictment may spur further calls for action to combat fraud in the program.

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The NY Chapter of the Federal Communications Bar Association (FCBA) held a “Meet and Greet” with FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly yesterday in Kelley Drye’s New York office.  Jameson Dempsey, a Kelley Drye associate and co-chair of the NY FCBA Chapter, provided introductory remarks. John Heitmann, Chair of the Communications Practice group in Kelley Drye’s Washington

Stressing the importance of receiving truthful and accurate information, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) reached a $1.7 million settlement with inmate calling services provider Securus Technologies, Inc. and related entities (“Securus”) to resolve allegations that Securus submitted misleading information to the FCC in support of a pending transfer of control.  Although the settlement cleared the way for the transfer’s approval, the FCC held up the deal for months while it investigated statements made by Securus representatives.  As a result, the FCC’s action supports the adage that “haste often makes waste” in telecommunications-related deals and that submitting misleading information to the FCC can come with significant consequences.


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Continuing its assault on unlicensed broadcast operations, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) issued a unanimous Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) at its September meeting proposing the statutory maximum fine of $144,344 against a pirate radio operator as well as the owners of the property housing the unlicensed station.  The action represents the first time the FCC has found landowners apparently liable for pirate radio operations on their property and the first Commission-level NAL issued against a pirate radio operation.  Imposing penalties on property owners that support pirate operations has been a longstanding goal for Commissioner O’Rielly, and Chairman Pai signaled that cracking down on pirate stations remains a key enforcement priority for the FCC.

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As part of its August 2017 Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) proposing over $82 million in fines against Philip Roesel and the insurance companies he operated for allegedly violating the Truth in Caller Act by altering the caller ID information (a/k/a “spoofing”) of more than 21 million robocalls in order to generate sales leads and avoid detection by authorities.  The FCC separately issued a Citation against Mr. Roesel and his companies for allegedly violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by transmitting the robocalls to emergency, wireless, and residential phone lines without consent.  The NAL and Citation represent just the latest salvos in the FCC’s continuing assault on robocalling in general and deceptive uses of spoofing in particular.  With $200 million in proposed fines in only two cases, it is clear that such issues will remain an enforcement priority under Chairman Pai.

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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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