FCC Enforcement Bureau
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is the agency’s prosecutor. We regularly represent clients throughout the enforcement process. Our work includes responses to formal and informal inquiries and complaints, bringing complaints, responding to Notices of Apparent Liability (NALs), and negotiating consent decrees. When we represent clients before the Enforcement Bureau, we bring not only a deep knowledge of communications law, but also a team that includes defense attorneys who regularly defend parties who have been placed under the government’s powerful microscope in complex federal investigations.
Universal Service Fund Audits
Audits by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), whether of contributions to or payments from the Fund, can lead to significant liability, with an equally significant impact on a provider’s bottom line. These thorough examinations of a company’s books present additional risks, including referral to the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau or discovery of additional compliance issues. Our team regularly assists clients before, during, and after the audit process.
Before an audit begins, we help providers identify, evaluate, and address compliance issues. The rules governing both contributions and support mechanisms are complex, and even the most careful provider can make mistakes. We routinely review existing compliance and recommend steps to address potential problems.
During an audit, we work closely with providers to navigate the process, assist with responses, and advocate as needed. We draw on our deep familiarity with both the telecommunications industry and also the audit process to help providers understand and prepare responses to auditors’ questions. Where complexities or ambiguities in the rules result in disagreements between our client and the auditors, we help providers explain and defend their reporting.
After an audit, we advocate vigorously on behalf of providers who wish to challenge audit findings, through appeals to the FCC and into the federal courts, as necessary. We also aid providers seeking to make changes to their reporting and compliance to address audit findings.
From start to finish, our attorneys make the USAC audit process as painless as possible, ensure that our clients’ rights are protected, and help guard against future exposure.
FCC’s Office of Inspector General
We regularly represent parties investigated by the FCC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which is the FCC’s watchdog for fraud, waste, and abuse. For many companies, an encounter with the OIG marks a crossroads between putting a controversy to rest and facing additional scrutiny from civil plaintiffs, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, or even the Department of Justice (DOJ). We negotiate with the OIG to avoid unreasonable burden to our clients in responding to overly broad and unfocused administrative subpoenas, and we make sure the OIG considers the facts that support our clients’ position.
Though audits and enforcement actions frequently originate from regulators and their agents, the DOJ, which has broad powers to enforce federal civil and criminal laws, gets involved from time to time, whether on referral from the regulator, on its own initiative, or in conjunction with a FCC investigation, particularly one by the FCC OIG. Our teams combine deep telecommunications regulatory knowledge with equally deep experience handling government investigations, civil litigation, and criminal cases. As a result, we have the experience to seamlessly address issues that arise from the entry of the DOJ into an audit or enforcement matter.
False Claims Act/Qui Tam Cases
The False Claims Act allows the government to recover the proceeds of false claims for government disbursements, or to enforce contribution obligations concealed by a false statement. But, unlike most government claims, a special provision of the law allows private citizens to bring these suits, giving rise to a cottage industry of sorts. In a qui tam action, a private citizen, also known as a “relator,” brings a False Claims Act claim on behalf of the government. If the federal government desires, it may intervene in the case, and the relator will receive between 15% and 25% of any judgment or settlement amount. If the government does not intervene, the relator may still proceed with the case and will receive between 25% to 30% of any judgment or settlement amount. As the FCC and other agencies more aggressively pursue and publicly announce enforcement actions, communications and information technology companies garner more attention from potential qui tam plaintiffs.
Our attorneys are uniquely positioned to prepare for and defend against qui tam actions. We combine our knowledge of multiple intricate and complex federal subsidy programs with our vast experience investigating and defending against a wide variety of civil and criminal actions brought by private plaintiffs, government plaintiffs, and state and federal prosecutors. Many qui tam cases are “under seal” (confidential) at the outset, and they may begin with a basic subpoena for information from a government agency that obscures the true nature of the case. However, our attorneys’ decades of experience litigating these and similar cases allow us to identify them early and present the facts and our clients’ defenses, and sometimes deter relators and the federal government before the case is ever unsealed. When qui tam cases are unsealed, we are equipped to defend them through all phases, from responding to a complaint, through discovery, to trial, and into the appellate courts as needed.
Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Our attorneys help clients understand and meet the complex and ever-changing legal and regulatory requirements that apply to communications and information technology companies. At the same time, our attorneys’ decades of collective investigative and litigation experience gives us a broad perspective on the consequences of failing to comply with those legal and regulatory requirements. As a result, we can provide sound advice that allows our clients to adopt policies and structure their operations in a way that reduces the likelihood they end up in the cross-hairs of a government auditor, an enforcement agency, or a private plaintiff.