UPDATED: FCC policy shift wouldn't erase $100M AT&T fine

FCC headquarters
The FCC is reportedly considering limiting its enforcement process to one year in a move that could lead to the dropping of a $100 million proposed fine against AT&T.

A potential change in the FCC's enforcement policy wouldn't lead to the dropping of a $100 million proposed fine against AT&T. But it would signal the arrival of new Chairman Ajit Pai in a very big way.

The fine was initially proposed in July 2015 after the FCC found the carrier hadn’t been sufficiently transparent with its grandfathered data plan customers about how and when their speeds would be throttled when they hit specific caps. It was the largest fine the agency had ever proposed.

The fine is still pending, although Bloomberg reported Pai is considering limiting the FCC’s enforcement to one year in an effort to accelerate the process. “If a company has violated the Commission’s rules, the FCC shouldn’t be waiting years before imposing a financial penalty,” an FCC spokesman told Bloomberg.

Even if the FCC were to adopt such a policy it wouldn't drop the AT&T fine, agency officials said Thursday, because it would be applied prospectively, not retrospectively. A spokesman told FierceWireless the agency doesn’t comment on investigations such as the AT&T probe, but said companies typically have a chance to respond to proposed fines.

FCC officials didn't initially make clear that the policy wouldn't be retroactive. “We do not speculate as to what next steps might be taken or where that investigation stands at this moment,” spokesman Will Wiquist said via email Wednesday.

Installing a one-year limit on enforcement would likely mark a significant shift for the FCC, which aggressively enforced its rules under Chairman Tom Wheeler. Wheeler stepped down as Donald Trump became president.

The FCC last year announced plans to fine Total Call Mobile $51 million for allegedly fraudulently enrolling tens of thousands of users into the Lifeline program, and it recently reached a $100 million settlement with Straight Path Communications over the company’s failure to deploy wireless services as required under FCC spectrum licensing rules.

Verizon last year agreed to pay a $1.35 million fine and adopt a three year compliance plan as part of a settlement related to the carrier’s use of “super cookies.”

Pai currently enjoys a 2-1 Republican majority on the FCC—a reversal from the 3-2 majority Democrats claimed until Obama left the White House—and the new chairman is widely expected to pursue more business-friendly policies then his predecessor did. Indeed, trade associations and wireless executives were quick to laud Trump’s move to elevate Pai to the chair last month.

This story was updated Feb. 23 to include new comments from the FCC.

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