FCC Enforcement Bureau Defense Attorney

Individuals and businesses can be investigated and fined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Enforcement Bureau (EB) for violating the Communications Act of 1934 (Act), as amended. Viewing a sample of EB Amateur Radio Service enforcement actions will provide an idea of the breadth of issues involved.

Attorney William Driscoll (KA1WEW) is a member of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and the ARRL Volunteer Counsel Program. He provides the uncommon combination of legal and technical skills to address a broad spectrum of legal issues faced by ham radio operators. He represents individuals before the FCC Enforcement Bureau.

The range of issues vary from licensing to technical rule violation. The FCC may request information regarding a felony conviction, which can result in the loss of license privileges on the basis of fitness. Or the matter may involve a serious technical violation resulting in significant fines, loss of license, federal prosecution by the Department of Justice (DOJ), and other serious consequences.

Never Ignore An FCC Notice-Matters Will Only Get Worse, Quickly

Unless the notice is a routine FCC communication you may want to contact a lawyer. Why? Lawyers routinely analyze language and law to compose a direct and appropriate response. How the message is conveyed is as important as the message itself. An error on your part may necessitate the involvement of a lawyer after the situation has worsened.

The FCC Letter of Inquiry (LOI)

The process typically begins with a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) from the FCC. The LOI provides notice of the issue. It is the responsibility of the recipient to ascertain all facts, preserve all documents and records, and draft a reply in a timely manner. The letter is akin to an administrative subpoena for which fines can result from the failure to timely respond.

The FCC Notice of Violation (NOV)

The FCC will issue a Notice of Violation (NOV) after investigating a complaint if the complaint is substantiated. The NOV may request that the recipient provide additional information concerning the violation and any remedial actions taken within the time provided in the NOV.

The FCC Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL)

If the FCC Enforcement Bureau (EB) finds sufficient evidence of a violation of the Act then a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) will issue. NAL will specify the violation, a specific proposed resolution (e.g., a monitory fine), and the rationale for such course of action. Failing to respond to the NAL will result in an FCC order seeking payment of the fine.

There are a number of ways in which to respond to a NAL.The NAL response can be:

  • • A formal answer and legal brief addressing the factual and legal basis for violation;
  • • A request for Consent Decree (CD) negotiation; or,
  • • A request for special treatment due to an economic hardship.

Whichever the response, an answer to the NAL is due within the time provided in the NAL.

The FCC Forfeiture Order

If the FCC orders monetary or equipment surrender then a Forfeiture Order (FO) will recount the issue history, consider any response by the recipient of the NAL, and resolve the matter. The recipient must then accept the FO or the file a timely FCC Notice for Administrative Appeal.

If the FO remains unresolved then the matter is referred by the FCC to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for resolution. The DOJ can pursue the matter in the United States District Court. During this process, the FCC follows its "red light rule" which allows the dismissal of outstanding applications.

The Bottom Line

FCC enforcement actions are progressive. It would be prudent to engage legal counsel as early in the process as possible because your situation only gets more dire as the stages progress. To learn more, call Attorney William Driscoll at 978-846-5184.