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FCC TO RECONCILE FINES FOR SIMILAR VIOLATIONS

WASHINGTON-In a report and order adopted June 19, the Federal Communications Commission amended its current forfeiture policy to “add predictability in the forfeiture amounts assessed for similar violations among different services.”

FCC rule violations, ranging from missing or paperwork filed late to broadcasting without a license, and their associated fines had been decided on a case-by-case basis bureau by bureau. The order, in part a result of a 1994 notice of proposed rulemaking, now institutes guidelines regarding minimum forfeiture amounts across the board; commenters found established guidelines to be preferable to case-by-case assessments. A table of base forfeitures will be included in the text of the order; the Office of the General Counsel would not release the numbers prior to release of the entire order.

According to a Compliance and Information Bureau spokesman, the order makes “significant changes in the previous policy statement. Instead of several base amounts, now there is one.” Many base fines have been lowered to take into account the influx of small business into the communications field. Still other fines have been raised, although the spokesman could not go into detail regarding how wireless issues now will be handled.

The commission retained previous rights to latitude when interpreting the fines. The bureaus still can take into account “the nature and seriousness of the violation, the repeated or singular nature of the violation and the violator’s ability to pay.” Fines also can be reduced or increased based on these factors as well as on other, more egregious violations that include misrepresentation and crimes unique to a particular service. First-time violators still may get off with a warning.

To date, the FCC has, at minimum, tens of thousands of dollars in fines that have not been collected due to the Justice Department’s refusal to deal with forcing payment of any fine totaling less than $10,000. The order does not address any solutions to this problem.

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