At its September 30, 2021 Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) unanimously adopted a Second Report and Order in IB Docket No. 16-155 requiring applicants with reportable foreign ownership seeking Commission approval for certain applications to answer standardized national security and law enforcement questions (“Standard Questions”) prior to or when filing their applications. The Standard Questions were developed in coordination with the. Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, State, and Commerce and the United States Trade Representative, which conduct review of national security, law enforcement, foreign policy, or trade policy issues associated with the foreign ownership of the applicants of certain applications filed with the FCC and referred to the agencies. The Standard Questions will apply, following review and approval by the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) (and issuance of an associated public notice) to the types of applications the Commission generally refers to the Executive Branch, namely applications for international section 214 authorizations and submarine cable landing licenses, applications to assign, transfer control or modify such authorizations and licenses where the applicant has reportable foreign ownership, and all petitions seeking to exceed foreign ownership limits applicable to broadcast or common carrier wireless licenses set forth in Section 310(b) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the “Act”) (47 C.F.R. § 310(b)).

The adoption of Standard Questions is the FCC’s complements several other reforms in the past year to formalize and streamline the FCC and Executive Branch review process conducted  pursuant to Executive Order No. 13913 of April 8, 2020, Establishing the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United State Telecommunications Sector (the “Committee” (commonly referred to as “Team Telecom”)). The Executive Order sets forth procedures and timelines for the Committee to conduct its reviews of referred applications. The Commission’s earlier reforms are detailed in the FCC’s (First) Report and Order  in Docket 16-155 Executive Branch Review Order released October 1, 2020 (and Erratum). As noted in the Second Report and Order, the FCC considered comments filed in response to a Public Notice containing proposed Standard Questions.


Continue Reading FCC Adopts Standard Questions to Facilitate Executive Branch Review of Applications Involving Foreign Interests in Applicants

For decades, parts of the Federal government have examined transactions that introduce and increase foreign investment in United States telecommunications businesses. Transactions that implicate reviews by the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security (collectively, “Team Telecom”) and/or by the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”) can face procedural hurdles and delays

For years, there have been critiques about the lack of procedures surrounding the review, by a group of Executive Branch agencies commonly referred to as “Team Telecom”, of applications before the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) for licenses and transaction approvals involving foreign ownership, including the absence of timeframes for completing reviews. The FCC tried to implement limited changes within its jurisdiction by launching a rulemaking, but that never progressed to a conclusion. Now, by Executive Order (“EO”) on April 4, 2020, President Trump established a framework to govern such reviews and clearly include reviews of existing licenses and authorizations even where there are no current mitigations. There are still a lot of unknowns regarding the new “Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector” (the “Committee”). It is too soon to know whether the Committee will bring a welcome measure of regularity to a previously unshackled process or will prove to be an even greater bane to applicants and licensees than the Team Telecom process its work will replace.

Continue Reading President Formalizes Executive Agency Review of FCC Applications and Licenses; Quick Action on FCC License Revocation

A new report from the Wall Street Journal on FCC robocall enforcement set off a minor scrum over the effectiveness of the FCC’s TCPA efforts under Chairman Pai. The report claimed that, despite recent eye-popping enforcement actions and policy proposals aimed at curbing unwanted calls, the FCC collected only a fraction of those fines so far. Out of $208.4 million in fines issued since 2015 for violations of the FCC’s robocalling and associated telemarketing rules, the agency collected just $6,790, or less than one-hundredth of one percent. None of the over $200 million in robocall-related fines imposed under Chairman Pai’s leadership have been collected to date, including the record-setting $120 million penalty issued last year against a robocalling platform and its owner for placing over 96 million “spoofed” marketing robocalls.

This report prompted commentary from Commissioner Rosenworcel, who tweeted that these “measly efforts” were “not making a dent in this problem” and called for carriers to provide free call blocking tools to consumers. In our view, however, the report really doesn’t relate to the vigor – or alleged lack thereof – of FCC robocall enforcement efforts. Instead, the small amount of assessed fines that are actually collected starkly demonstrates the internal and external hurdles faced by the FCC, which impact all types of enforcement actions, not just robocalls. The report likely will rekindle Congressional criticism of FCC enforcement processes and calls for more systematic solutions to the problem of unwanted calls.


Continue Reading Battle Over Collection of Robocall Fines Illustrates Broader Enforcement Issues, Not a Lack of Willpower on TCPA