Anonymous complaints about jamming result in six-digit fines.

We have previously reported on the FCC’s campaign to stamp out cell phone jamming devices. It turns out that the Commission has apparently found some guerilla allies in that campaign. In two recent Notices of Apparent Liability, two companies have been whacked with six-digit fines – $126,000 in one case, $144,000 in the other – for operating jammers. Both times the Feds were called in by anonymous tipsters.

In each case, the company admitted to operating multiple jammers. Seems they were trying to discourage  employees from using their cell phones in the workplace. While the FCC’s orders obviously don’t identify the complainants who ratted out the companies, we think it’s probably a pretty good bet that the tips came from company employees who wanted to be able to make cell calls from the workplace.

Both of the target companies ‘fessed up to acquiring the jammers online from overseas sources. One of the companies – Taylor Oilfield Manufacturing – claimed that it had fired up its jamming efforts “following a near-miss industrial accident that allegedly was partially attributable to employee cell phone use.” No matter, responded the FCC. Jamming is prohibited, and that’s all there is to that.

To emphasize how seriously it takes this kind of violation, the Commission piled on when it came to calculating the fines.

In each case, the target company admitted to operating four separate jamming devices. The FCC concluded that the operation of even one such device constituted three separate violations: (1) unauthorized operation, (2) operation of illegal equipment, and (3) causing interference to authorized communications. While the base forfeiture amounts specified in the FCC’s rules for those violations are $10K, $5K and $7K, respectively, the Communications Act caps jamming-related fines at $16K per violation. So the FCC figured that each separate jamming device had been used for three separate violations, for a total of 12 violations. Invoking a certain amount of mumbo-jumbo involving upward adjustments, the duration of the violations (a couple of months in one case, a couple of years in the other) and the like, the FCC furrowed its brow, clenched its jaw, and pronounced that one company will be tapped for $126,000, the other $144,000. 

In so doing, the FCC noted ominously that each of the target companies could have been slammed for more than $1.3 million – but it decided to go easy on these two because this is the first time the Commission has fined any business for jamming activity. Be forewarned, though, that the FCC is not committed to being Mr. Nice Guy forever. It suggested that “more aggressive sanctions” may be in the offing if these first two fines don’t sufficiently deter unlawful jamming.

And on a further cautionary note, the FCC mentioned that it could also have found both companies guilty of the additional violation of illegally importing their jammers. It appears that the Commission was satisfied that it was already exacting the requisite pound of flesh. It also appears that, possibly, the FCC was concerned about certain procedural niceties (involving the preliminary issuance of citations) that might have required further attention here. But even though it let both of the target companies off the hook on the illegal importation count this time, the Commission announced that it “intend[s] to impose substantial monetary penalties” for illegal importation in the future.