FCC dings convenience stores – again – for selling phones and not filing forms.

The FCC has issued official warnings – “citations,” they call them – against eight wireless phone companies, alleging failure to file certain reports relating to compatibility of handsets with hearing aids. Seven of the companies indeed look like wireless service providers. Actually we don’t know that for sure, but at least their names include words like “wireless” and “cellular.”

But the eighth alleged offender is Circle K Stores, Inc., which most people don’t think of as a phone company. It operates a chain of convenience stores. Nevertheless, the FCC calls Circle K a “reseller of wireless services” because it stocks prepaid handsets. Circle K had earlier told the FCC it obtains the handsets from an external source. It also told the FCC it is not now, and never has been, involved in the operation of a wireless telephone service.

But the FCC, unmoved, warned Circle K that continued violations (i.e., not filing reports) could expose the company to fines of $150,000 per violation, per day. That’s a lot of milk.

We reported last January that the FCC had similarly deemed the 7-Eleven convenience stores to be providers of wireless telecommunications services.  There, the alleged violation was the company’s failure to post on its web site certain information about (again) hearing aid compatible handsets. 7-Eleven, too, was warned that future violations could bring very large fines.

This approach strikes us as unwise. For one thing, Circle K and 7-Eleven are unlikely to have the information the FCC wants. Rather than make them obtain it from their vendors, or whoever up the chain actually has the information, it would make more sense to impose the filing requirements on the companies that deal with the handsets in bulk.

More important, the FCC’s threats may well persuade Circle K and 7-Eleven to take the cell phones off their shelves in favor of more kinds of potato chips and energy drinks. If the FCC continues handing out scary citations, other neighborhood retailers will likely drop the phones as well. That would cut off many lower-income Americans from access to mobile communications – surely not what the FCC wants to happen.