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In a move spurred by Twitter’s decision to fact-check a pair of President Trump’s tweets, the president recently signed a multi-pronged “Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship” with the claimed intention of stopping online platforms from making content moderation decisions that discriminate against particular viewpoints. The President, along with other conservative political figures and commentators, have frequently claimed that social media platforms have used content moderation practices to stifle conservative speech. The Executive Order (“EO”) evokes the First Amendment, calling online platforms the 21st century “public square,” where people go to express and debate different views, and saying the allegedly biased content moderation practices undermine that free expression.

The most controversial aspects of the order are its interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”)—the statutory provision that shields online service providers from liability for user-generated content and the decisions they make about how to moderate that content—and its attempt to prompt the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to adopt regulations further interpreting the law. Reform of Section 230 has been under consideration in Congress for years, with Republicans and Democrats both offering different—and mostly contrary—critiques about how online platforms have failed to act in accordance with the statute while also benefitting from the liability protections.

Other directives in the EO attempt to elicit other parts of the federal government to discipline online platforms for their content moderation practices. Absent Congressional action, the EO’s directives appear to stand on shaky legal ground and are likely to have limited legal impact.  However, the issuance of the EO alone may be unlawful, at least according to a complaint challenging the constitutionality of the EO filed with the U.S. District Court in D.C. by the Center for Democracy & Technology (“CDT”). According to the complaint, the EO violates the First Amendment, which strictly limits the government’s ability to abridge speech, by retaliating against Twitter for exercising its right to comment on the President’s statements and because it “seeks to curtail and chill the constitutionally protected speech of all online platforms and individuals” by demonstrating the government’s willingness to retaliate against those who criticize the government.


Continue Reading Section 230 Executive Order Strikes Back at Twitter, But Legal Impact Likely to be Limited

The FCC has proposed new rules to eliminate several obscure telecommunications charges that were either mandated or authorized for price regulated local exchange carriers and then mirrored by many competitive telecommunications providers. At its March 2020 Open Meeting, the Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would eliminate the FCC’s regulation of the Subscriber Line Charge, and several other end-user access charges largely created as cost-recovery mechanism during access charge reforms in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The NPRM also would prohibit all carriers from both listing these charges in their tariffs and breaking out these charges into separate line items on customer bills. These moves are touted by the Commission as relieving carriers of price regulation and increasing transparency for consumers.

Continue Reading FCC Initiates Rulemaking to Deregulate End-User Charges and Simplify Customer Bills

The FTC and FCC have taken a number of actions to stem unlawful robocalls generally and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, to stem harmful and deceptive calls that seek to exploit the COVID-19 crisis. Even amid the backdrop of their long-standing commitment, the agencies’ most recent action stands out as an aggressive new approach to unlawful calls. On April 3, 2020, the enforcement arms of each agency jointly sent warning letters to three Voice over Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) service providers allegedly facilitating the transmission of international scam telemarketing calls originating overseas. The letters make an unprecedented demand:  block the traffic of specific allegedly unlawful actors or have all of your traffic blocked by other carriers. In this post, we’ll take a look at this new approach, and discuss its relationship to the broader provisions of the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement Act (“TRACED Act”), which institutes a number of measures designed to combat illegal robocalls.

Continue Reading FCC/FTC Stake out Aggressive Robocall Position, Tell Gateway VoIP Providers to Block COVID-19 Robocalls – or Be Blocked Themselves

Last week, in a major enforcement action, the FCC proposed $208 million in fines against the nation’s four largest wireless carriers—AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint—for allegedly selling access to their customers’ location information without taking “reasonable measures” to protect the information against unauthorized disclosure. The FCC argued that such actions violated its rules regarding the protection of customer data known as customer proprietary network information (CPNI).

This enforcement action marks a series of firsts. It is the first CPNI enforcement action since the pre-2016 CPNI regulations were reinstated following the repeal of the broadband privacy rules by Congress in 2017. This is also the first large consumer protection enforcement action under Chairman Pai’s leadership—up to now, Chairman Pai has eschewed the principle-based enforcement of his predecessor in favor of more clear-cut rules violations. The action also generated criticism both for being too soft (and too late) and for potentially being beyond the Commission’s jurisdiction.


Continue Reading FCC Proposes Over $200 Million in Fines to Big Four Wireless Carriers for Allegedly Selling Customer Data Without Safeguards

On August 1, the FCC took another step in its ongoing effort to combat deceptive and unlawful calls to consumers. This action once again sets its sights on a common target:  concealment or alteration of the originating number on a communication. This practice is known as “spoofing” and, when conducted with an intent to cause harm to consumers, is unlawful. In the August 1 Report and Order, the FCC amended its Truth In Caller ID rules to expand anti-spoofing prohibitions to foreign-originated calls and text messaging services.

Once these rules take effect, the FCC closes a significant gap in its prior rules – calls which originate outside the United States – at the same time that it acts preemptively to prohibit deceptive spoofing in a growing area – text messaging. In the process, the FCC will enhance one of its most commonly used tools in its effort to combat unlawful robocalls – fines for unlawful spoofing. Generally, the FCC has attacked parties that originate unlawful robocalls by fining them for the subsidiary violation of spoofing the unlawful calls. In telecommunications enforcement, spoofing violations are the tax evasion charges to Al Capone’s criminal enterprise.


Continue Reading FCC Expands Anti-Spoofing Prohibitions to Foreign-Originated Calls, Text-Messaging Services

By unanimous vote, the FCC launched a rulemaking this past week to consider allocating the 1675-1680 MHz band for co-primary use by flexible commercial terrestrial fixed and mobile operators with incumbent federal operators. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”), released on Monday, May 13, is, in many fundamental ways, similar to a proposal Ligado first made in a 2012 petition for rulemaking, with adjustments over the years, seeking to allow terrestrial mobile operations in the 1675-1680 MHz band.

Continue Reading FCC Starts Rulemaking on Commercial Mobile Access in 1675-1680 MHz Band, Similar to 2012 Ligado Petition

The FCC is requiring fixed-satellite service (“FSS”) operators to provide the Commission with information about their current use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (“C-Band”) by May 28, 2019, according to a Public Notice released jointly earlier this month by the FCC’s International Bureau, Wireless Bureau, and Office of Engineering and Technology. The FCC will use the information to consider potential rules that allow new commercial terrestrial services in the Band while protecting incumbent satellite and earth station operators. The Band is currently allocated to FSS and the fixed service, but the Commission has proposed adding a mobile, except aeronautical mobile, allocation, which would allow commercial wireless providers to operate 5G services in the Band. The amount of spectrum to be reallocated or shared, the extent of protection for incumbents, and the means of protection for incumbents are all, as yet, undetermined, and they are topics of substantial debate among stakeholders.

Continue Reading FCC Seeks Further Information About Satellite Use of C-Band from FSS Space and Earth Station Operators

On January 30, 2019, Geoffrey Starks was sworn in as the newest FCC Commissioner, restoring the agency to its full complement of five Commissioners for the first time since the summer. In announcing his swearing in, Commissioner Starks stated he intends to focus on strong FCC enforcement “protecting the most vulnerable and holding wrongdoers accountable.” He added that he will “serve the public interest by encouraging innovation, competition, and security, as well as advancing policies to increase the quality, availability, and affordability of our country’s communications services.” Commissioner Starks joins Commissioner Rosenworcel as one of the two Democratic Commissioners at the FCC. He fills the seat vacated by former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who left in June 2018 after nearly nine years at the FCC, including a stint as acting Chairwoman in 2013. Commissioner Starks will complete Ms. Clyburn’s five-year term, which expires at the end of June 2022. Although Commissioner Starks’ swearing in is not expected to result in any immediate FCC policy shifts, his addition provides a strong voice in favor of Open Internet regulation, Universal Service Fund reform, and enforcement.
Continue Reading FCC Back to Full Strength Following Swearing In of New Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

At its December 12 Open Meeting, the FCC adopted its first Communications Marketplace Report, which combines several separate reports into one and is meant to provide a comprehensive overview of the mobile wireless, fixed broadband, audio, video, and satellite communications markets. Congress directed the Commission to complete such a report biennially with its passage of