After a long road that included questions over the scope of FTC and FCC jurisdiction, AT&T finally settled one of two cases challenging the unlimited data plans it offered to consumers.   On Tuesday, November 5, 2019 the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) moved to settle its October 28, 2014 complaint against AT&T Mobility, LLC (“AT&T” or “Company”) in which the FTC asserted that the Company was reducing the data speeds of customers grandfathered into unlimited plans after they had used a certain amount of data. The stipulated order, approved 4-0 by the FTC and awaiting final approval from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, will require AT&T to dole out $60 million to eligible customers and prohibit the Company from portraying the amount or speed of mobile data in its plans, including unlimited, without disclosing any material restrictions accompanying such plans.

As we covered extensively in several previous blog posts, one of the primary consequences of the case were questions about the limits of the FTC’s jurisdiction. The case mirrored a time when the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) took opposing positions in successive administrations regarding whether mobile data services and other Broadband Internet Access Services (“BIAS”) were subject to FCC regulation. One of the central questions underlying the case was which agency, the FCC or the FTC, could regulate AT&T’s mobile data practices. After the FTC won a Ninth Circuit decision that its jurisdiction reaches to non-common carrier activities of common carriers (and the FCC concluded that mobile BIAS was not a common carrier service), AT&T agreed to settle the FTC case. However, so long as the jurisdiction of particular services remains in doubt, or is subject to changing FCC positions, service providers will face potential overlapping enforcement activities by the two agencies.


Continue Reading AT&T To Pay $60M to Settle 2014 FTC Data Throttling Complaint

On June 5, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC’s” or the “Commission’s”) Enforcement Bureau (“Bureau”) issued a Notice of Apparent Liability against a manufacturer and retailer for marketing non-compliant RF devices, a dozen models of which were capable of operating in restricted spectrum bands.  The FCC proposes to assess a total fine of $2,861,128.00 against ABC Fulfillment Services LLC and Indubitably, Inc. (collectively, “HobbyKing”) for equipment authorization rule violations involving 65 models of recreational audio/video transmitters (“AV Transmitters”) used with model airplanes drones.  But more than $2.2 million of that resulted from the fact that twelve models apparently operates in restricted radio bands and three at higher powers than authorized in other bands. The restricted bands are those in which unlicensed transmitters are not allowed to operate because of potential interference to sensitive radio communications.  In the case of HobbyKing’s  the Commission found that its AV transmitters operated in bands where important government and public safety operations, such as those of the Federal Aviation Administration managing commercial and passenger flight traffic, doppler weather radar, flight testing, and other activities the FCC has determined are particularly worthy of heightened interference protection take place.  In other words, the moral is that marketing devices that do not have proper equipment authorization is bad, but doing so when the devices operate within restricted bands is quite simply “egregious,” as the NAL put it.

Continue Reading FCC Proposes Maximum Penalties for “Egregious” Marketing Recreational RF Devices Able To Operate In Restricted Radio Bands

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.

Continue Reading FCC Proposes First-Ever Forfeiture Against Property Owners for Facilitating Pirate Radio Operations

On June 22, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) issued a first-of-its-kind Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) alleging that Adrian Abramovich, through numerous companies that he owned or operated, violated the Truth in Caller ID Act by placing more than 95 million robocalls to consumers while “knowingly causing the display of inaccurate caller ID information.”  The NAL proposes fines totaling $120 million, and seeks to hold Mr. Abramovich personally liable for the full amount.  Separately, the Commission released a citation against Mr. Abramovich on the same day for alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the federal wire fraud statute.

Continue Reading June 2017 FCC Meeting Recap: FCC Proposes $120 Million Fine for Alleged “Spoofed Robocall Campaign”

CashIn the first action of its kind, on June 7, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) issued an amendment to a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order (“NAL”), for alleged violations of the rules governing the Universal Service Rural Health Care Program (“RHCP”). The FCC found that the fine proposed in the initial NAL was not based on the correct violations and included violations beyond the agency’s one-year statute of limitations.  However, by changing the type of conduct found to violate the RHCP rules and increasing the proposed fine, the FCC’s amendment presents its own statute of limitations concerns and raises questions about the use of amendments in enforcement actions.  The amendment also is the first foray by Chairman Pai into Universal Service enforcement matters since he assumed the chairmanship in January of this year.

Continue Reading FCC Amends NAL in Rural Healthcare Proceeding, Increases Proposed Fine

Last week, the Enforcement Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) announced a $135,000 settlement with Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood, LLC (“Constellium”) regarding the company’s unauthorized radio station operations, failure to timely file radio station renewal applications, and acquiring private land mobile radio service (“PLMRS”) station licenses without advance FCC approval.  What makes the Constellium consent decree different than most is that the settlement was reached after the Bureau issued a Notice of Apparent Liability (“NAL”) proposing a forfeiture for these violations.  Much more frequently, consent decree orders are reached earlier in the process, obviating the issuance of an NAL.  In this case, the Bureau agreed to a significant reduction in the forfeiture in exchange for Constellium implementing a 3-year robust compliance plan, giving station licensees a glimpse into the potential value of settling in comparison with being subjected to an NAL followed by a forfeiture order if the defense against the NAL is not successful.

Continue Reading Non-Telco Company Agrees to $135,000 Civil Penalty to Settle Investigation into Unauthorized Operations of Wireless Stations

Today the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) issued a pair of closely-related enforcement actions against two radio station licensees for failing to comply with the FCC’s radiofrequency (RF) exposure limits.  T-Mobile received a $60,000 Notice of Apparent Liability and Wirelessco received a $25,000 Notice of Apparent Liability (NALs) for apparent inadequate protections to prevent public access to antennas co-located on the same office building rooftop in Phoenix, Arizona.  These actions underscore the importance of radio station operators ensuring that appropriate barriers and signage designed to limit access are in place and regularly maintained.

Continue Reading $85,000 in Fines Proposed for RF Exposure Violations after Ineffective Rooftop Barriers and Signage Lead to Building Owner’s Complaint

Wi-Fi management or blocking practices have once again seized the enforcement spotlight at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  On November 2, the FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability (Dean NAL) proposing  a $718,000 penalty against M.C. Dean, an electrical contracting company, for allegedly blocking Wi-Fi hotspots at the Baltimore Convention Center.  That same day, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) released an NAL proposing a $25,000 fine against Hilton Worldwide (Hilton NAL) for its apparent refusal to comply with a Bureau Letter of Inquiry (LOI) investigating the company’s Wi-Fi management practices.  That investigation continues.

The new releases highlight several items of interest: 1) the FCC’s continued focus on Wi-Fi management resulting in blocking activities and alleged malicious interference, 2) the debate among the Commissioners regarding the FCC’s ability to fine companies for such activities under current law and FCC regulations, and 3) the potential expansion of Bureau investigations into the activities of the subsidiaries, affiliates and possibly franchisees of the investigation’s initial target.


Continue Reading FCC Issues NAL in First Contested Enforcement Proceeding Involving Wi-Fi Blocking

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A Notice of Apparent Liability issued today by the Federal Communications Commission against AT&T for numerous alleged violations of microwave point-to-point license rules after a lengthy investigation by the Enforcement Bureau, but the two Republican Commissioners took the Commission and Bureau to task for failing to provide transparent factual bases and justifications for both the base violations and also the grounds for proposed upward adjustments.  Commissioner Ajit Pai made a point of concurring and Commissioner Michael O’Reilly concurred in part and dissented in part.


Continue Reading FCC’s Proposed Forfeiture of $640,000 against AT&T for License Violations Stemming from Acquisitions Subject to Republican Criticism

The release of three notices of liability in the past two weeks regarding alleged violations of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) antenna structure violations by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) reveals the extent to which size may trump uncooperative and extended non-compliant behavior when it comes to proposed forfeitures.  For violations falling under same category