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:
- Violations of Environmental, Historic Preservation, and Tribal Notification Rules Lead to $950,000 Penalty
- Proposed $300 Million Fine Follows Largest-Ever FCC Robocall Investigation
- Deceased Licensee’s Estate to Pay $7,000 Penalty for Failing to File Required Applications and Documents
Wireless Provider Pays $950,000 for Violating Environmental, Historic Preservation, and Tribal Notification Rules
A national wireless provider entered into a consent decree with the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, agreeing to pay $950,000 for violating the FCC’s environmental and historic preservation rules, as well as rules requiring entities to coordinate with relevant state governments and tribal nations in the construction of communications sites.
To resolve the FCC’s investigation, the company admitted to prematurely constructing wireless facilities before completing the required environmental and historic preservation reviews and by constructing wireless facilities without onsite monitoring as requested by the affected tribes. Under Section 1.1307(a)(4) of the FCC’s Rules, applicants and licensees must assess whether proposed facilities may significantly affect the environment and whether the proposed facilities may affect districts, sites, buildings, structures, or objects that are listed (or eligible for listing) in the National Register of Historic Places, or may affect Native American religious sites. Applicants must also follow other rules set out by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation or the National Historic Preservation Act Review Process, as applicable.
By early 2020, the company began deploying newer wireless technology, commonly known as small cells. Small cell antennas are used to improve wireless service and can be mounted to streetlight poles, utility poles, or even traffic control structures. During the summer of 2020, the company began constructing the small cell antennas that are the subject of the Consent Decree. After the company reported concerns regarding its compliance with the environmental rules to the FCC, the Commission opened an investigation and issued a Letter of Inquiry (“LOI”) to the company in January 2022. The company filed several responses to the LOI throughout 2022. Ultimately, the Commission determined that the company began and or/completed building wireless facilities in three states prior to, or without completing, the required review process and Tribal notification process. The FCC also concluded that the company failed to comply with Tribal notification procedures in two states. While some of the noncompliant construction was found to have been caused by a miscommunication between the company and its third-party contractors, other violations were the result of a company employee who lacked expertise on the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act requirements. Before and during the FCC’s investigation, the company stated that it had begun the process of removing any wireless facilities found to have an adverse effect on historic streets. Continue reading →