The FCC and AT&T have settled an investigation into whether the carrier operated fixed wireless stations differently from what was authorized. AT&T will pay a $450,000 civil penalty and institute a compliance program to prevent repeat violations.
Wireless stations like those at issue here are generally wireless connections that telecoms use to connect directly between towers. Common carrier microwave stations are generally used to support long-haul backbone connections or to connect points on the telephone network that cannot be connected using standard wireline or fiber optic cable because of cost or terrain.
The Enforcement Bureau began investigating the carrier in 2012. In 2014, AT&T told the Commission it found differences between the licensed parameters and what was actually built for a large number of fixed microwave licenses it acquired from 2009 to 2012.
The carrier didn’t quickly review the licenses, so nearly 60 stations were operating outside their licensed parameters for between 3.5 to 5 years by subsidiaries New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC and AT&T Mobility Puerto Rico, Inc. That’s out of a total of 691 licenses it acquired.
The original penalty proposed last year was $640,000. The fine was so large because the agency determined the apparent violations to be egregious. “Delay of up to five years to correct filings from acquisitions simply is not acceptable,” said the agency.
The bureau also wants its penalties to be a deterrent. “We recognize that AT&T is a multi-billion dollar global enterprise. In this respect, the Commission has determined that large or highly profitable companies should expect the assessment of higher forfeitures for violations.”
At the time, Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly concurred with their colleagues but didn’t like how the decision came about, saying it was difficult to justify such a large fine (400% higher than the base amount) when many details were unknown, including how that squared with the fact that AT&T told the agency about the discrepancies in an effort to bring the acquired licenses into compliance.
After negotiations, they have settled on the $450,000 civil penalty. “We expect every person or company that receives a license from the Commission will operate within the parameters of that authorization,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “Any licensee who operates outside those parameters threatens the integrity of communications networks, increases the risk of harmful interference, and breaks the law.”
As part of the settlement agreement, AT&T agreed to implement a compliance plan and conduct timely reviews of wireless fixed microwave stations acquired in the future to ensure that they’re operating within their licensed parameters. It will also file periodic progress reports on its compliance efforts and correct errors discovered within 60 days.