FCC Enforcement Monitor ~ April 2018
Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:
- FCC Proposes $235,668 Fine for Filing Untruthful Information
- Major Phone Carrier Settles Dispute With FCC Over Rural Call Completion Issues for $40 Million
- Repeat Pirate Nets $25,000 Fine
Tower Records: FCC Proposes Large Fine for Dozens of Falsified Tower Registrations
After a bizarre string of events involving unlit towers, falsified applications, and alleged theft, the FCC proposed a penalty of $235,668 against a Wisconsin holding company for providing false and misleading information on dozens of Antenna Structure Registration (“ASR”) applications and misleading an Enforcement Bureau agent.
Section 1.17 of the FCC’s Rules requires a party that is either (A) applying for an FCC authorization; or (B) engaging in activities that require such authorizations, to be truthful and accurate in all its interactions with the FCC. Specifically, Section 1.17(a)(2) states that no person shall “provide material factual information that is incorrect or omit material information that is necessary to prevent any material factual statement that is made from being incorrect or misleading….”
In December 2016, the Enforcement Bureau began investigating an unlit tower in Wisconsin after the Federal Aviation Authority (the “FAA”) forwarded a complaint from a pilot who had noticed the structure. Unlit towers pose a serious danger to air navigation. In the midst of the investigation, the tower’s ASR information was changed to show a new company had taken control of the tower. When an FCC investigator reached out to the newly registered owner, the company’s CEO stated that his company had recently acquired the tower, knew of the lighting problem, and would make repairs as soon as the weather permitted. In the meantime, the company also began changing the registration information for other towers, requested flight hazard review from the FAA for some of these towers, and filed an ASR application for construction of a new tower in Florida.
Several months later, the original owner of the unlit tower informed the FCC that the other company was not actually the owner and that the imposter company’s “CEO” had improperly changed the ownership information for several sites in the ASR system. The true owner also claimed that the alleged fraudster had changed locks and stolen equipment from several of the real owner’s towers—including the new lighting equipment that the original owner bought to repair the extinguished tower lighting.
In response, the Enforcement Bureau sent a Letter of Inquiry (“LOI”) to the claimed CEO’s physical and email addresses seeking more information about his various applications. To date, the Bureau has not received any response.
In a Notice of Apparent Liability (“NAL”), the Enforcement Bureau determined that the CEO’s company became subject to Section 1.17 when it applied for the Florida tower registration, and also that the CEO was engaging in activities that require FCC authorization. According to the NAL, the CEO apparently provided false and misleading information on 42 separate change in ownership applications and communicated false information to the investigating agent. According to the Enforcement Bureau, the company also violated Section 403 of the Communications Act (the “Act”) by failing to respond to the LOI.
Under its statutory authority to penalize any party that “willfully or repeatedly fails to comply” with the Act or the FCC’s Rules, the FCC may issue up to a $19,639 forfeiture for each violation or each day of a continuing violation. Accordingly, the FCC proposed a fine of $19,639 for each of the 10 apparently false applications filed in the past year, $19,639 for the company’s alleged misleading statements to the investigating agent, and an additional $19,639 for its failure to respond to the FCC’s questions, for a total of $235,688.
Missed Connections: Major Phone Carrier Agrees to Pay $40 Million After Investigation Into Rural Call Completion Issues
The FCC entered into a Consent Decree with a major phone carrier after an investigation into whether the carrier violated the Commission’s Rural Call Completion Rules.
According to the FCC, consumers in low-population areas face problems with long-distance and wireless call quality. In an effort to address these problems, the FCC has promulgated a series of directives that prohibit certain practices it deems unreasonable and require carriers to address complaints about rural calling (“Rural Call Completion Rules”).
In 2012, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau determined that a carrier may be liable under Section 201 of the Act for unjust or unreasonable practices if it “knows or should know that calls are not being completed to certain areas” and engages in practices (or omissions) that allow these problems to continue. This includes (1) failure to ensure that intermediate providers (companies that connect calls from the caller’s carrier to the recipient’s carrier) are performing adequately; and (2) not taking corrective action when the carrier is aware of call completion problems. Continue reading →