Local competition is at the heart of the enforcement focus at the FCC. The Enforcement Bureau is a critical part of the agency's plan to preserve and promote the competitive gains that have been made under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the FCC's implementing regulations. Most of the necessary pro-competitive "rules of the road" are now in place and competition is accelerating. As a result, focus is shifting to enforcement and dispute resolution rather than rulemaking. To preserve fair competition, and the resulting benefits to consumers, all players must follow the law. Companies must understand that they cannot gain an advantage through unfair market practices. With the enhanced focus on enforcement at the FCC, companies now know that, if they violate communications law, there will be significant consequences. In this way, the competitive marketplace envisioned by Congress will work, and the benefits of that competition will flow to consumers.
Following its motto, "firm, fast, flexible and fair," the new Enforcement Bureau is serving as a model for how FCC efforts can promote growth and competition in communications industries, to the overall benefit of American consumers. The Enforcement Bureau is committed to acting quickly and concisely, managing its case docket aggressively, and working with industry to resolve disputes rapidly and fairly. Because there will be swift, clear answers to pending disputes, companies in the communications industry will have a better understanding of their legal obligations. This is essential to conducting business, particularly in the rapidly evolving communications marketplace.
Local Competition Enforcement Structure
Essentially, the Enforcement Bureau functions in two main ways in the area of local competition enforcement. One involves FCC-initiated investigations into whether a particular company, or class of companies, is violating the Communications Act or the FCC's rules. The second involves resolving disputes between industry participants either through mediation and settlement, or formal complaints leading to published FCC decisions.
Pursuant to Section 403 of the Communications Act, the FCC has broad authority to initiate investigations regarding compliance with the statute or FCC rules. The Commission has discretion to determine whether and what it will investigate, as well as the manner and time period of the investigation. In conducting investigations, the Enforcement Bureau often writes a letter of inquiry to the company in question seeking information regarding compliance. This may be in the form of interrogatories that must be answered under oath. It may also include a request for documents. Such a letter is an information-gathering tool. It is not an "indictment" and does not reflect a judgment by the staff that any violation has in fact occurred.
Upon completion of the information-gathering process, the Commission exercises its discretion on how to proceed. In some circumstances, the response to the inquiry may lead the Enforcement Bureau to conclude that enforcement action is not warranted. If the facts indicate a potential violation of law, the agency may initiate enforcement action. Often this takes the form of a notice of apparent liability for forfeiture. In extreme cases, the Enforcement Bureau may recommend to the Commission that it initiate hearing proceedings to revoke a license or authorization.
The Bureau Investigations and Hearings Division has staff devoted to local competition enforcement matters. In addition, in appropriate cases, the staff in the Bureau's Regional and Field Offices throughout the country may assist the Investigations and Hearings Division with local competition enforcement investigations.
The second major local competition enforcement function involves resolving disputes between industry participants. Under Section 208 of the Communications Act, any person may file a formal complaint with the FCC against a common carrier (wireline, wireless, or international) alleging that the carrier has violated the Communications Act or the FCC's rules. The FCC is charged with adjudicating such formal complaints and determining whether the conduct is unlawful. In appropriate cases, the agency may award monetary damages. The Commission may also award permanent injunction relief if necessary. The Bureau's Market Disputes Resolution Division handles formal complaints filed under Section 208.
Local Telephone Competition Enforcement Actions