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FCC's LeBlanc: Agency Has Improved Collection of Fines

After questions were raised, notably in a House FCC oversight hearing, about the FCC's collection of fines it has imposed, including for alleged abuse of its lifeline broadband subsidy program, Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc took to the FCC blog to explain and defend the process.

LeBlanc said that the commission has collected 86% of the actual fines it has imposed over the last two years and over 80% of fines in each of the last three. He said in 2015 alone the bureau has collected almost $100 million in fines.

He also said that it took the FCC an average of 19 months to resolve notices of apparent liability (NALs) in 2011, but that by 2014, the average was only eight months.

The FCC issues notices of apparent liability and proposes forfeitures, but LeBlanc pointed out that there follows a lengthy, mandated, process for enforcement that includes a notice of possible violations and penalties, after which parties can make their case against the proposed fine. Then the FCC must thoroughly review that argument and decide how to proceed. The action could be settling or voting to assess a fine, which can then be challenged again.

After that challenge process is exhausted, and if the FCC is not persuaded, a company has to pay. But if it does not, the FCC is not the debt collector. It is referred to the Department of Justice as a debt to the U.S. Treasury.

Just last week, the FCC pointed out that any TV station with such an outstanding debt would have that deducted from its payment if it was tapped to give up spectrum in the incentive auction.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.