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Official FCC Blog

Enforcement Fines: The Collection Process

by Travis LeBlanc, Enforcement Bureau Chief
November 25, 2015 - 01:17 PM

The Enforcement Bureau has four guiding mandates: protect consumers, safeguard competition, secure communications networks, and police the integrity of Commission funds, programs and services. To better protect the public and strengthen accountability, the Bureau has made it a priority to streamline its processes, reduce its backlogs and provide more transparency into its enforcement activities. Recently, some questions were raised about the rate at which enforcement fines are collected, so we thought it would be helpful to offer a primer on the enforcement process.

Statutory Authority

While the Bureau always strives to conclude enforcement cases efficiently—and has made significant progress in doing so over the last two years— the Bureau follows a mandated process for taking and finalizing enforcement actions in order to protect the integrity of the investigations and ensure fairness to the companies involved. This process, while lengthy in nature, is required by law and ensures due process by providing notice of possible violations and an opportunity for companies to respond.

In setting the amount of the proposed fine, the Communications Act requires the Commission to consider specific criteria: "nature, circumstances, extent, and gravity of the violation and, with respect to the violator, the degree of culpability, any history of prior offenses, ability to pay, and such other matters as justice may require." In addition, the Commission follows forfeiture guidelines—established in 1997— that set base penalties for certain violations and identify criteria that the Commission considers when determining the appropriate penalty in any given case. Under these guidelines, the Commission may adjust a forfeiture upward for violations that are egregious, intentional, or repeated, or that cause substantial harm or generate substantial economic gain for the violator.

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Streamlining Rules and Processes: New Steps Forward

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
November 25, 2015 - 12:32 PM

Over the course of my career I have witnessed many instances where regulatory delay and burdensome red tape slowed the pace of innovation and hampered investment in the communications sector, which plays such a vital role in our country's economic growth. That's why one of my first steps as Chairman was to launch a comprehensive review of the Commission's operations, with the goal of streamlining processes, updating or removing outdated rules, and generally improving how the agency conducts its businesses. Next month, the Commission will consider two new initiatives in this ongoing effort.

Already, we've seen significant improvements to the agency's operations. Commission staff have made substantial progress on reducing matters pending for more than six months, processing license applications and renewals, disposing of petitions for reconsideration and applications for review, and closing open dockets. One of the most obvious reforms was overhauling the consumer complaint process. We opened a new complaint portal early this year, and continue to make enhancements in the data being made available publicly regarding the complaints filed here at the FCC.

One area of focus had been modernizing Part 25 of the Commission's rules, which governs licensing and operation of space stations and earth stations for the provision of satellite communications services. Led by our International Bureau, the Commission has already revised or eliminated numerous Part 25 rule provisions.

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A Dialogue on E-rate Pricing Data

November 16, 2015 - 12:48 PM

As part of the E-rate Modernization Order adopted last year, the Commission decided to increase pricing transparency in the E-rate program by making information publicly available regarding services and equipment purchased by schools and libraries, including line-item costs. To that end, the Commission directed the Office of the Managing Director and USAC to make such information available through open APIs and bulk data files posted on USAC’s website:

Helping schools and libraries obtain the best possible pricing is important for several reasons. First, funding for E-rate comes from ratepayers, and we seek to ensure that the public is getting the best value for its money. Second, E-rate does not foot the entire bill for E-rate supported services; schools and libraries share the cost of their E-rate services, which means taxpayers across the country have an interest in making sure their schools and libraries don’t spend more than necessary. Third, the funding is a shared resource -- every school or library that secures a better price helps stretch the E-rate budget to serve even more schools and libraries with better, faster service. Finally, by federal statute, all telecommunications carriers are to provide services to schools and libraries “at rates less than the amounts charged for similar services to other parties” (that's all customers, not just other schools and libraries). As a tool to help deliver on this Congressional objective, however, providing the data to make comparisons even just between and among schools and libraries is a good starting point.

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Rethinking Outdated Voice Regulations

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
November 12, 2015 - 02:09 PM

With old school switched access telephone service on a steep decline, accounting for an ever smaller proportion of total voice connections, it may come as a surprise that the FCC continues to regulate incumbent telephone companies as “dominant” providers. While it is true that incumbents still account for most of the remaining switched access lines, that’s no longer a useful or relevant way of looking at the voice market. Consumers have an abundance of options to choose from when they want to make a call—to the extent they are even making calls these days. It is time for the FCC to see market realities and eliminate the requirements associated with this supposedly “dominant” status.

The waning relevance of switched access phone service in the voice market is well documented, including in the FCC’s own Local Telephone Competition Reports. Since the peak over a decade ago, the number of incumbent switched access lines has fallen by more than 50 percent, and incumbent switched access minutes of use have dropped by more than 70 percent. In 2013, less than one-third of American households purchased an incumbent switched access service, and that figure is projected to drop to under 20 percent by the end of this year.

The reason is that consumers can choose from a wide array of competing services. The 2014 Local Telephone Competition Report shows that between December 2010 and December 2013, interconnected VoIP subscriptions increased at a compound annual growth rate of 15 percent, and mobile telephony subscriptions increased at a compound annual growth rate of 3 percent, while retail switched access lines declined by 10 percent a year.

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Clearing the Air on Wi-Fi Software Updates

by Julius Knapp, Chief, Office of Engineering & Technology
November 12, 2015 - 12:09 PM

This week marked the closing of the reply comment period in the Commission’s radio device approval modernization rulemaking. The comments and replies are largely supportive of the Commission’s proposals, but one particular element generated thousands of comments from individuals concerned that the proposal would encourage manufacturers to prevent modifications or updates to the software used in devices such as wireless local area networks (e.g., Wi-Fi routers). I’m pleased that this issue attracted considerable attention and thoughtful submissions into the record and would like to make it clear that the proposal is not intended to encourage manufacturers to prevent all modifications or updates to device software.

As I wrote last month, this proceeding has taken on a significance beyond the Commission’s original intent. One of our key goals is to protect against harmful interference by calling on manufacturers to secure their devices against third party software modifications that would take a device out of its RF compliance. Yet, as the record shows, there is concern that our proposed rules could have the unintended consequence of causing manufacturers to “lock down” their devices and prevent all software modifications, including those impacting security vulnerabilities and other changes on which users rely. Eliciting this kind of feedback is the very reason that we sought comment in an NPRM and we are pleased to have received the feedback that will inform our decision-making on this matter.

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Back to Basics: Accessibility and Public Safety

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
October 29, 2015 - 03:50 PM

November will mark my second anniversary as FCC Chairman. On this occasion, our open meeting agenda reflects the very same priorities I spoke about on my first day. From the outset I’ve spoken about the Commission’s responsibility to uphold the core values that have historically defined our communications networks, what I call the Network Compact. Two of those core values are access and public safety, and each will be featured at our upcoming meeting.

If you’re looking for evidence of communications technology’s power to save lives, look no further than the events of July 1, 2013 in East Windsor, Connecticut. A tornado swept through town, tearing apart an inflatable indoor soccer dome and blowing parts onto the nearby highway. Literally two minutes before the tornado hit, the soccer dome was filled with 29 children and five camp counselors. With moments to spare, they were evacuated to an adjoining building where they sought shelter. The reason they knew to seek cover was that the manager of the summer camp received an alert from the National Weather Service on her phone saying a tornado was headed her way, and she responded immediately.

The reason she received that warning was because the FCC and FEMA, working with the wireless industry, established the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system to deliver critical information to Americans on their wireless phones. Typical messages include severe weather information and Amber Alerts. Now that stakeholders have a few years’ experience with the service, we can make it even better.

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Detroit’s Digital Divide

October 27, 2015 - 01:43 PM
Photo of  Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn

It’s always good to get out of Washington. It’s even better when you get to visit one of America’s great cities. This week, we have had the pleasure of visiting the Motor City: Detroit, Michigan.

In the mid-20th century, Detroit’s economy got a boost from a new network of highways that fueled a spike in auto manufacturing from eight million units in 1950 to a peak of 15 million in the 1970s. Today, new broadband networks are creating even greater opportunities for the people of Detroit, but they are also raising new challenges. The most immediate challenge is that an unacceptable number of Detroit residents are being bypassed by the broadband revolution. Detroit’s digital divide is among the most extreme in the nation. Thirty-eight percent of its residents do not have broadband at home. For low-income households, the percentage offline is a whopping 63 percent.

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Decision Time on the Incentive Auction

October 16, 2015 - 03:57 PM

Today wraps up an important week for the Incentive Auction with the release of two critical items: the Application Procedures Public Notice and the final opening bid prices for broadcast stations.

Earlier today Chairman Wheeler called this a “watershed moment” for auction participants, and he’s exactly right. Broadcasters and potential forward auction participants now have in their hands all of the information they will need to decide whether to participate in the auction. We have set 6 p.m. on December 18, 2015, as the date by which interested broadcasters must file their applications; forward auction bidders must file by 6 p.m. on January 28, 2016.

After years of planning and deliberations, this thing is real. The Application Procedures PN is the “How to Apply” manual for reverse and forward auction participants. It explains how to complete and submit the applications, and provides a detailed schedule of pre-auction bidder education and training events. It contains detailed attachments covering matters such as the technical details regarding the procedure for determining the spectrum clearing target, the algorithms for the reverse and forward auction bid processing determination procedure, and the bidding units for determining upfront payments and minimum opening bids in the forward auction. Concurrently with the Application Procedures PN, additional data and information related to the incentive auction, including the final interference “constraints” and the associated supporting files, have been made available on the Auction 1000 website (

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Your Feedback is Building a Better

by Dr. David A. Bray, FCC CIO
October 9, 2015 - 11:00 AM

You spoke; we listened. Since our last update on our modernization project, we built a new Beta (i.e. test) version of based on your input, and we need your feedback again. Building upon the foundation of extensive user research done earlier this year – and coupled with additional input we will receive during this Beta period – the new will be more useful and accessible to FCC stakeholders.

Check out the Beta site at and please tell us what you think. What works? What doesn't? And don't worry: you can still access the old content and features at while we perfect the new site.

What's New?

The new Beta site is Drupal-based and responsive, meaning the display will optimize based upon the device you are using to view the site such as PC, mobile phone, or tablet.

The Beta website is also connected to our document databases, EDOCS and ECFS, via application programming interfaces (APIs). The APIs allow real-time EDOCS and ECFS updates to display in 'Headlines' and 'Most Active Proceedings'. FCC applications will also be updated and increasingly cloud-based, similar to our new Consumer Help Desk.

All of the content that resides on the current has already been migrated to the new, Drupal-based site. We are currently integrating this content into new information architecture, meaning additional and improved ways of accessing and interacting with all the information currently available on

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Securing RF Devices Amid Changing Technology

by Julius Knapp, Chief, Office of Engineering & Technology
October 8, 2015 - 03:56 PM

This summer, the Commission opened a rulemaking proceeding with the goal of modernizing our approval process for radio devices to help us keep pace with the accelerating introduction of an ever-expanding breadth of wireless devices and products into the marketplace.

The proposed rules will help the Commission not only better address the realities of device manufacture and use today but plan for the spectrum policy of the future. As Chairman Wheeler has announced, this month the Commission will consider a rulemaking on the use of higher-frequency bands for mobile and other uses that will “focus on developing a flexible regulatory framework that will allow maximum use of higher-frequency bands by a wide variety of providers,” including “hybrid shared models” to promote more flexible use in higher bands.

But flexible use requires manufacturers, users, and the FCC to be even more vigilant in monitoring and preventing harmful interference – and that’s where this new rulemaking proceeding plays a critical role. The rulemaking will establish for all device approvals a policy that the Commission has adopted for individual device categories over the last few years of requiring manufacturers to certify that a device cannot be modified by the installation of third party software in a way that causes those devices to create harmful interference.

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