Enforcement Bureau Prioritizing Robocalls, Privacy and Robotexts
The FCC Enforcement Bureau is prioritizing privacy and robotexting matters alongside robocalls, increasingly scrutinizing confidentiality requests, and may begin paying particular attention to foreign ownership, said panelists Monday on an FCBA CLE. “Robocalling is number one at the top of the pop charts, but No. 2 is consumer privacy, said Kristi Thompson, chief of the EB’s Telecommunications Consumer Division. The division is busy “handling a multitude of privacy-related enforcement actions and investigations,” she said.
The agency is concerned about high-profile data breaches that affected major voice service providers. As more people live their lives digitally, consumer concern over who has access to their data has risen, Thompson said. Robotexting is also an increasing focus for the agency as scammers shift their attention away from voice calls, which Thompson said have become less effective due to consumer behavior shifts. “We’ve all been schooled; you don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize,” she said. The agency is working to clamp down on robotexts to prevent that problem from “getting out of control” as robocalls did, she said.
Thompson said the agency has increasingly shifted to a strategy of disrupting the actions of robocallers through notifications to voice service providers while separately pursuing an enforcement proceeding against them. This was the method the agency used against auto warranty robocaller Sumco Panama, the subject of a $300 million NAL in December (see 2212230022), Thomson said.
It “wouldn’t be surprising” to see an increasing EB focus on foreign ownership, said Harris Wiltshire's Owen Smith during an overview of the bureau’s activities. EB Chief Loyaan Egal was previously the deputy chief of the Foreign Investment Review Section of DOJ’s National Security Division. It's likely the EB under Egal will pursue enforcement in that area, and could employ DOJ strategies that the bureau hasn’t previously used, Smith said. Recent years have seen an increase in EB scrutiny of confidentiality requests from parties to enforcement proceedings, Smith said. There's “strong pushback” from the bureau on such requests, and attorneys making them should be specific about what information is confidential, he said. The bureau won’t be receptive to “blanket requests,” Smith said.
The agency is closely monitoring a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case on a pole attachment rates dispute between AT&T and Duke Energy (see 2301260004), said Rosemary McEnery, chief of the Market Disputes Resolution Division. It's the first time the appeals court has taken up an ILEC matter, but the bureau is still pursuing other pole attachment cases while watching that one, she said.
Attorneys and clients should be especially aware of deadlines and timing when responding to the Enforcement Bureau or seeking extensions, said nearly every panelist. “When you are responding, respond in full and respond on time,” said Spectrum Enforcement Division Chief Elizabeth Mumaw. The statute of limitations on a given violation “looms over everything we do,” said Pamela Gallant, Investigations and Hearings Division acting chief. Parties seeking an extension from the bureau should “give us some faith that you are actually working on the item and not just putting it off,” said Thompson.