FCC Proposes AT&T Fine Over License Violations

Republican Members Complain about Lack of Specificity

The FCC voted Thursday (Jan. 29) at its public meeting to propose fining AT&T over $600,000 for failure to comply with some wireless licenses, but not without some unusual procedure that signaled the ongoing partisan divide over process and transparency.

AT&T brought the failures to the commission voluntarily. Although the facts were not in dispute, the Republican members only concurred after they said they did not get information about the proposed fine until the 11th hour and had issued with the proposal to increase the base fine by over 400% due to what the FCC said was its egregiousness and given AT&T’s ability to pay, which is one factor the FCC uses to boost fines. FCC chairman Tom wheeler countered that the Republicans had failed to engage until late in the process and had no room to complain.

In fact, the Republicans had not recorded a vote by the meeting's start, which prompted the unusual step of voting on the item before revealing at the meeting what it was about. FCC votes at public meetings are usually the formal acknowledgement of tallies that have already been recorded before the meeting starts.

Ultimately the vote was 5-0 with two concurrences. Commissioner Ajit Pai said that once he did get the information--which was only the day before the meeting--he felt there was sufficient justification to issue the notice of apparent liability.

But both he and commissioner Michael O'Rielly signaled they had not previously received enough specificity on the violations to cast a vote.

AT&T took issue with boosting the base fine from a little over $100,000 to over $600,000.

“The NAL adopted today stems from a review AT&T voluntarily conducted of 691 microwave licenses acquired from other entities between 2009 through 2012 undertaken to determine if any FCC records needed to be updated," said an AT&T spokesperson. "The vast majority of the licenses reviewed required no updates.  The results of the review were voluntarily reported to the FCC and filings were made in ULS to modify and update Commission records as appropriate.  The majority of the updates filed were considered ‘minor’ modifications under the Commission rules, updates that were as simple as correcting the longitude or latitude of a site or changing contact information.  We strongly disagree that this conduct merits a proposed forfeiture of over $600,000, particularly when that amount is based largely on bureau penalty multipliers for conduct deemed willful, repeated and egregious.

“We will carefully review the NAL when it is released and respond as appropriate.”