AT&T agrees to pay fines again

May 04, 2015 10:37 pm
Karl Bode of Techdirt tweeted last week:
So in the last two years AT&T has been fined for defrauding the IP Relay system (which helps the deaf)......fined for profiting handsomely off of scamming and cramming, and for actually hiding those practices......sued for deceptive throttling of unlimited data customers...And now for effectively defrauding the Lifeline program, designed to help the poor.

Bode explained more in Techdirt about AT&T's recent missteps. On April 29, the FCC announced that AT&T and its former subsidiary Southern New England Telephone (SNET) will pay $10.9 million in penalties for overbilling the FCC’s Lifeline program, a program which helps ensure low income consumers have access to a phone line. But AT&T has several other recent bouts with regulators. Last year the Federal Trade Commission sued AT&T for slowing down customr data speeds after they've used up a certain amount of data in a single month. ‘Unlimited’ means unlimited," said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez at the time. Also last year, the FTC fined the company $105 million because AT&T Mobility, LLC allegedly charged consumers’ mobile phone bills for third-party subscriptions or services that they never ordered or authorized. In 2012 the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against AT&T for bilking taxpayers out of millions of dollars by abusing IP Relay subsidies. An IP Relay allows the hearing impaired to send text-based messages to phone numbers, which are then read by operators. Since 2004, scammers realized that this was an opportunity to make almost totally anonymous calls paid for by taxpayers. The FCC pays telcos $1.50 per minute on IP Relay calls. Bode says companies have started grumbling that Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, "is being too hard on industry," with a major profile in The National Journal. Brendan Sasso notes there that LeBlanc has also had T-Mobile pay $90 million for placing charges on consumers bills, that Marriott Hotels paid $600,000 for blocking its customers' Wi-Fi hotspots, and CenturyLink and Verizon were fined millions for a software glitch that blocked 911 calls for six hours. Sasso writes:
"Two telecom-industry advocates complained that LeBlanc has been successful at grabbing headlines, but less effective at actually curbing bad behavior. By not being lenient on companies that self-report violations, he is discouraging future companies from coming forward, they said. "The FCC's new approach will discourage cooperation and self-disclosure, and it's going to force regulatees to beef up on litigation instead of compliance with the rules," one industry lobbyist said. "Ultimately, that's a poor use of resources for taxpayers, and it will lead to a worse result for consumers."