Monday, November 23, 2015

Report: FCC Proposes Millions In Fines, Collects $0

The FCC has yet to collect more than $100 million in fines it's announced against companies in the past two years, sparking criticism from members of Congress who say the agency is chasing headlines without following through on enforcement.

Among the outstanding cash: about $100 million in penalties proposed in 2013 against nearly a dozen companies accused of defrauding the FCC's Lifeline low-income phone subsidy program, as well $35 million against a Chinese company for allegedly selling illegal wireless jamming equipment in June 2014, according to a Politico review of agency records.

While the FCC says it's scored important consumer protection wins even without the collection of some penalties, its frequent press releases about enforcement actions — with collection of fines lagging far behind — have irked key lawmakers who oversee the agency. The issue is gathering more attention this year, as FCC officials have unveiled new high-profile actions like a $100 million proposed fine against AT&T in June for slowing down the wireless connections of some unlimited data plan holders.

The FCC enforcement process has never been quick. After the FCC proposes a fine, companies have around 30 days to either pay or challenge it. The fine isn't officially due until the FCC completes its investigation — a process that can take years. Even after that review is complete, the FCC has to rely on the Justice Department to collect the money if a company doesn't agree to pay.

The FCC would not comment on the outstanding Lifeline cases, saying it can't talk about ongoing proceedings. But a spokesperson said the practice of issuing proposed fines — technically called notices of apparent liability, or NALs — is a major tool to protect consumers, even if companies don’t ultimately pay a full penalty.

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