More fines on the way as FCC ramps up CPNI enforcement

Look out below! The Commission has lowered the boom on telecommunications carriers who apparently didn’t file their Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI) certifications when they were supposed to last March. An “Omnibus Notice of Apparent Liability” (ONAL) was issued late on February 24 directed against some 600 carriers.   At $20,000 per violation, the FCC’s take could run upwards of $12,000,000.

As we reminded one and all a couple of weeks ago, in 2007 the Commission began requiring each carrier to submit (by March 1 of each year, starting in 2008) to the Commission a compliance certificate, signed by a company official, stating that he or she has personal knowledge that the company has established operating procedures that are adequate to ensure compliance with the CPNI rules. The seriousness of this requirement apparently didn’t sink in fully with a large number of carriers, all of whom seem simply to have ignored it. That’ll be $20,000, please – payable to Uncle Sam. (Of course, each carrier identified in the ONAL will have the opportunity to explain why it should not be liable for a forfeiture – but since they have all already had an opportunity to demonstrate that they did in fact comply with the certification rule, and since they all apparently came up short in that department, it’s difficult to be optimistic about their chances at avoiding a fine at this stage.)

Coincident with the ONAL, Acting Chairman Copps issued a statement emphasizing “the importance of protecting the sensitive information that telecommunications carriers collect about their customers.” According to Copps, “The broad nature of th[e ONAL] hopefully will ensure substantial compliance with our CPNI rules going forward as the Commission continues to make consumer privacy protection a top priority.” This is in keeping with other recent statements by the Acting Chairman in which he has characterized the FCC as a “consumer protection agency”.

In addition to the 600 or so forfeitures assessed in the ONAL, there appear to be more in the pipeline: the FCC has indicated that another batch of CPNI-related forfeitures is in the works. From the information released thus far, this second batch involves carriers which filed “non-compliant” certifications. In other words, they at least tried to jump through the certification hoop (unlike the 600 tagged with $20K fines in the ONAL), but for some reason(s) they didn’t do it the right way. They will likely be hit with $10,000 fines.

This flurry of activity underscores the importance of filing the required CPNI certification by March 1, as we have previously reminded all carriers.