FCC Enforcement Chief Outlines New Focus: Consumers, Prevention, Efficiency

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July 18 --The Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau will shift priorities to modern, consumer-centric issues while increasing efficiency and exercising less-harsh tools where appropriate in seeking compliance, said the bureau's acting chief July 18.

Travis LeBlanc, appointed as acting chief of the Enforcement Bureau (EB) in March, said a change in philosophy was underway at the bureau and that the EB would take on a more persecutory role. He also announced four core values of the EB's priorities in enforcing compliance in the 21st century--protecting consumers, safeguarding competition, policing fraud and securing networks.

“Historically, the Enforcement Bureau's enforcement philosophy has been very focused on our hammers,” LeBlanc said to a crowd, primarily of lawyers, at a Federal Communications Bar Association luncheon July 18. “We're going to also use, what I like to call, our scalpels,” he said.

Those scalpels are tools such as warnings to violators, or industry-wide conversations where a change in behavior by a few major companies could influence the rest of industry, LeBlanc said.

“The Bureau has had a tradition of being very reactive,” LeBlanc said. “We're going to meet with consumers to see what are the problems facing Americans today,” he said.

“I think it's a much better enforcement regime to prevent,” LeBlanc said.

Consent Decrees.

In his remarks, LeBlanc took issue with the practice of companies not having to publicly admit any wrongdoing if they agreed to settle with the commission.

“The consent decrees of the past were a bit of a 'boondoggle' for the industry. You didn't have to admit to anything,” LeBlanc said.

While very rare exceptions may be made, LeBlanc made it clear that he thinks the admission of liability is an important part of ensuring future industry-wide compliance with rules.

While not as desirable as they were in years past, “I still think that consent decrees are a good deal for the industry," said LeBlanc, addressing crowd concerns that the deals were losing appeal.

Consumer-Focus, Modern Issues.

“I want to substantially invest our resources in the real bad guys,” LeBlanc said.

It doesn't do consumers good to play “whack-a-mole” with enforcement or focus extensive resources on a company that has committed only a relatively minor violation, such as an incorrect filing, as opposed to a company that is causing great consumer harm with something like tacking on non-agreed-to charges, called “cramming,” LeBlanc said.

The FCC recently announced proposed fines totaling $10.52 million on three companies over cramming-related issues, according FCC press releases from the week of July 14.

“With every matter that comes before the Enforcement Bureau, I want the bureau to ask, 'how are we protecting consumers?' ” LeBlanc said.

“Junk-faxing isn't a main concern for us today.” LeBlanc said. Instead, he said, text-message-spamming and “robo calls” are “issues that ordinary Americans today are dealing with.” LeBlanc said he wanted to keep the EB's limited resources pinpointed on 21st-century issues.

With more than 70 percent of consumers owning cell phones, “privacy risk to consumers has increased substantially,” LeBlanc said.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced LeBlanc's appointment to EB acting chief in March 2014.

By Brandon Ross  

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at bross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com