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.
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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