FCC Reaches $450,000 Settlement with AT&T for Unauthorized Wireless Operations

The FCC's Enforcement Bureau began its investigation of AT&T in 2012

FCC Reaches $450,000 Settlement with AT&T for Unauthorized Wireless Operations
Image: AT&T
September 23, 2016

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has reached a $450,000 settlement with AT&T to resolve an investigation into whether AT&T operated fixed wireless stations without authorization or without filing required license modification notices.

According to the FCC, the investigation revealed that AT&T operated numerous common carrier fixed point-to-point microwave stations throughout the United States in ways that differed from the stations' licenses for periods ranging from three and a half years to over four years.

"We expect every person or company that receives a license from the Commission will operate within the parameters of that authorization," said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau. "Any licensee who operates outside those parameters threatens the integrity of communications networks, increases the risk of harmful interference, and breaks the law."

The Enforcement Bureau began its investigation of AT&T in 2012. In August 2014, during the course of the investigation, AT&T reported to the FCC that it had discovered numerous inconsistencies between the licensed parameters and the constructed facilities of a large number of fixed microwave licenses that it acquired from 2009 through 2012.

The FCC says that AT&T did not timely review the acquired licenses, which resulted in the unauthorized operation of many of the stations by its subsidiaries New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC and AT&T Mobility Puerto Rico, Inc. As a result, the Enforcement Bureau investigated the licensing history of approximately 250 AT&T stations to determine the extent of the unauthorized operations. In January of 2015, the FCC adopted a Notice of Apparently Liability for Forfeiture to AT&T alleging violations that the company admitted to in today's settlement.

As part of the settlement agreement, AT&T has agreed to implement a compliance plan through which it will conduct timely reviews of wireless fixed microwave stations acquired in future transactions to ensure that the stations are operating in accordance with their licensed parameters, file periodic progress reports on its compliance efforts, and correct any noncompliance discovered during the review process within 60 days of its discovery.

Wireless stations like those at issue here are generally wireless connections used by phone companies to connect directly between towers. Such 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. These systems are also used to connect cellular sites to the telephone network, and to relay television signals.