Federal Communications Commission

FCC Rejects Reconsideration of Calling Card Company Fines

The Federal Communications Commission rejected petitions for reconsideration of $20 million in fines issued against four prepaid calling card companies for deceptively marketing their products. In October 2015, the FCC issued separate $5 million fines against four calling card companies, Locus Telecommunications, Lyca Tel, NobelTel, and Touch-Tel USA, following an investigation by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. Each of the companies formally asked the FCC to reconsider those fines in four, separate petitions for reconsideration. The FCC dismisses and denies those requests and continues to seek payment of the fines.

The FCC has referred these matters to the US Department of Justice, which leads the process of collecting outstanding fines in federal court. The companies’ advertisements, apparently targeting immigrant communities, suggested that their calling cards could be used for hundreds or thousands of minutes of international calls. Multiple fees and surcharges added by the companies, however, caused the actual calling minutes available to consumers to be much fewer than advertised.

Robocall Strike Force Update

The released three main goals, with what the strike force delivered and the work that remains:
Goal 1: Robust Call Blocking & Filtering Tools for Consumers
Goal 2: Faster Implementation of Caller ID Authentication Standards
Goal 3: Solutions to Detect & Mitigate Unwanted Calls
They offered the following next steps:
Industry Must Ensure Continued Progress
Industry Must Be Aggressive in Achieving Concrete Deliverables
Providers Must Commit to & Comply with Implementation Deadlines
Providers Must Give Regular Updates, Particularly Where Work is Handed Off to
Other Industry Groups

FCC Furthers Consumer Engagement Efforts with Consumer Help Center Enhancements

A core component of the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau’s mission is to empower consumers in the telecommunications marketplace. True empowerment requires that consumers be active participants in the FCC’s processes. That is why, in January 2015, the FCC launched the Consumer Help Center. Through the Help Center, the FCC not only modernized and revitalized the consumer complaint intake process, these improvements also introduced new resources for educating consumers and sharing complaint data. Since the Help Center’s launch, we have made concerted efforts to continue to improve the quality of visitors’ experience, increase transparency around the complaint data we collect, and develop new ways to engage consumers.

Our latest enhancements to the Consumer Help Center is the “Tell Your Story” feature that gives consumers a new way to share with us their concerns and observations about a provider, a policy, or an issue affecting them or their communities generally. The redesigned Help Center webpage also provides easier access to all of the FCC’s consumer guides as well as the latest updates to consumer-related information on FCC.gov.

When you “Tell Your Story,” your comments will not be formally served on your provider as is our practice with complaints about service and billing. Instead, they will be used by Commission staff to inform policy making and identify practices that may be ripe for potential enforcement action. This differentiation will better allow the agency to focus its complaint resolution resources on those types of issues while maintaining and enhancing consumers’ ability to give voice to other concerns and thoughts.

FCC Agenda for October 2016 Meeting

The Federal Communications Commission will hold an Open Meeting on the subjects listed below on Thursday, October 27, 2016:

Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services Alerts (WC Docket No. 16-106): The Commission will consider a Report and Order that applies the privacy requirements of the Communications Act to broadband Internet access service providers and other telecommunications services to provide broadband customers with the tools they need to make informed decisions about the use and sharing of their information by their broadband providers.

Locus Telecommunications, Inc., Lyca Tel, LLC, Touch-Tel USA, LLC, NobelTel, LLC: The Commission will consider a Memorandum Opinion and Order that dismisses and denies a Petition for Reconsideration of a Forfeiture Order issued by the Commission for the deceptive marketing of prepaid calling cards.

Keynote Remarks of Commissioner Clyburn at #Solutions2020 Policy Forum

We are calling this afternoon's policy forum #Solutions2020 because we firmly belive that we can achieve robust, affordable connectivity for all Americans within the next four years. The six pillars I will outline, if fully implemented, will connect those digital deserts with robust, affordable communications services.

1) Ensure Affordable Communications: Lack of affordability remains one of the largest barriers to connected communities in this country, which is why I have made it the first pillar.
2) Empowering Communities: Local governments, that want to bring broadband connectivity to their communities, particularly when the private sector has failed to do so, should have, that right.
3) Broadband as a Driver of Improved Health Services: We must explore new ways, to ensure our nation’s health facilities, are equipped with advanced broadband-enabled technologies.
4) Promoting a More Diverse Media Landscape: We must strive to do more when it comes to making our media landscape truly reflective of the melting pot we call America.
5) 5G and Beyond for All Americans: There is a lot of buzz, around “5G” and I share this excitement. However, we must ensure, that the benefits of high-speed wireless broadband, reach all communities, including those Americans, who continue to rely on 2G service. And 5G connectivity, is largely reliant on the availability of more spectrum.
6) Enhancing Consumer Protections: Consumers deserve real transparency, when it comes to signing up for communications services.

Remarks of Commissioner Pai on Receiving Freedom of Speech Award at the Media Institute's 2016 Awards Banquet

We’ve had success in calling attention to government initiatives that threatened our constitutional freedoms. The most salient example was the Federal Communications Commission’s ill-advised “Critical Information Needs” study. This study involved researchers funded by the agency that licenses television stations going into broadcast television newsrooms and asking questions about editorial judgment. The FCC ultimately scrapped this study, thankfully. My op-ed in The Wall Street Journal may have started us down the path toward this decision. But what compelled the FCC to stop was the opposition of Americans from around the country and across the political spectrum. I wish I could say that the past is prologue, and that the future of free expression is bright. But I’m not so sure. I fear that our cultural consensus on the importance of being able to speak one’s mind is eroding. And nowhere is that consensus more at risk than on college campuses.

Commissioner O'Rielly Remarks Before International Broadcasters IdeaBank Conference

A good part of my focus at the Commission has been on opening closed doors for broadcasters to leverage new technology and reinvent themselves and the industry. Another recent area of reform involves the move to transition the public inspection files maintained by broadcasters to an online format. Additionally, last month, the Commission altered its old ad hoc foreign ownership approval procedures to allow broadcasters greater access to capital. On another front, many of you are likely following the Commission’s efforts on AM revitalization, which my colleague Commissioner Pai has been instrumental in moving forward. After a lot of consternation, we were finally able to reach accord and provide many AM radio stations with new options to compete in the ever changing marketplace.

FCC Reaches $48m Settlement with T-Mobile Over ‘Unlimited' Data Plans

The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau announced that T-Mobile will pay a fine and provide benefits to consumers totaling at least $48 million as part of a settlement resolving an investigation into whether the company adequately disclosed speed and data restrictions for its “unlimited” data plan subscribers.

The FCC’s investigation found that company policy allows it to slow down data speeds when T-Mobile or MetroPCS customers on so-called “unlimited” plans exceed a monthly data threshold. Company advertisements and other disclosures may have led unlimited data plan customers to expect that they were buying better and faster service than what they received. The Commission’s 2010 Open Internet transparency rules require broadband Internet providers to give accurate and sufficient information to consumers about their Internet services so consumers can make informed choices. The settlement includes $48 million in total financial commitments from T-Mobile. This includes a $7.5 million fine in addition to $35.5 million in consumer benefits offered to T-Mobile and Metro PCS customers with “unlimited” plans and at least $5 million in services and equipment to American schools to bridge the homework gap facing today’s students. Eligible subscribers will be offered discounts on accessories and additional data. T-Mobile will update its disclosures to clearly explain the “Top 3 Percent Policy,” who may be affected by it, what triggers its application and the impacts on data speeds.

T-Mobile will also be required to notify individual customers when their data usage approaches the threshold. The company will also adopt the FCC’s “Consumer Broadband Label” to provide more information and clarity on service terms, including speed, reliability and cost, such as fees and other add-on charges. Under the settlement, T-Mobile is required to update and improve its disclosures regarding its “unlimited” plans. It must either: provide clear and conspicuous disclosures about all restrictions on the amount and speed of data provided for “unlimited” data plans; cease the use of the term “unlimited” to label such plans; exclude “unlimited” data plan customers from the “Top 3 Percent Policy” or any similar practice; or limit any speed reductions for “unlimited” data plan customers to the minimum speed advertised for that plan.

In addition to the $7.5 million fine to be paid to the U.S. Treasury, the settlement requires T-Mobile to fund a $35.5 million consumer benefit program for T-Mobile and MetroPCS “unlimited” mobile data customers. Eligible T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers will be offered both:

  • Discounts of 20 percent off (up to $20) of the regular price for any in-stock accessory.
  • 4 GB of additional data if they have a mobile Internet data line – specifically T-Mobile’s “Simple Choice MINT” plan – or a tablet plan under the MetroPCS brand.

Empowering the 21st Century Consumer

Protecting consumers is part of the Federal Communications Commission’s DNA.

The Communications Act directs the FCC to promote fast deployment of communications technologies and networks to all Americans. It calls on the Commission to ensure fair access to those networks. It empowers the Commission to hold network operators and licensees accountable to the public interest – through rulemaking, periodic review of licenses, and effective enforcement. Our multiple Bureaus work collaboratively to promote unencumbered and fair access to communications technology, transparency in billing, privacy, and safety. Where appropriate, we also collaborate with our partner agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Homeland Security, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and state, local, and tribal authorities. In a dynamic communications environment, the FCC is adapting and modernizing to keep up with the times and promote competition. In the coming months, the Commission will consider adopting or proposing actions aimed at giving consumers the tools to protect their personal information online, ensuring customer choice in the market for video navigation devices, and expanding high-speed mobile data services to the 3.1 million Americans living in unserved or poorly-served areas. This report outlines the recent actions that the FCC has taken to protect consumers while promoting the competition and ingenuity that keep our markets thriving.

The Future of Local Internet Choice

I am honored to receive the National Champion for Local Internet Choice Award. And I am humbled to be recognized alongside the other award winners, each of whom have been remarkable leaders in the nationwide effort to give communities the power to decide their broadband futures. In the last three years, enormous progress has been made for local Internet choice.

But the battlefield is no longer the Federal Communications Commission and the courts, but state legislatures. The battle plan is for advocates for local Internet choice to bring every local mayor, city council, business, school, college, library, chamber of commerce and citizen together to convince state officials that for the future of those cities and towns and by extension, the state itself, localities must have the ability to determine their own broadband futures. Unless cities and towns can get predictable and affordable access to old-fashioned utility poles, building gigabit networks will be difficult and costly. A growing number of cities have built or are interested in building dark fiber networks and then leasing capacity on those networks to retail Internet service providers.

In closing, I’ll paraphrase just about every State of the Union address – “the state of local Internet choice is strong.” This is true despite the setback dealt by the 6th Circuit. Many challenges lay ahead, but so do many opportunities. If the past three years serve as precedent, I know that the passionate, knowledgeable and resilient advocates of this movement will overcome the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities. Let’s keep working together until every community can determine its own broadband needs without barriers. Thanks again for this wonderful honor and for all the support you have given Chairman Wheeler, the FCC and me for the past three years.

[Gigi Sohn is Counselor to the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission]