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Global Media and Communications Watch The International Legal Blog for the Tech, Media and Telecoms Industry
Posted in Policy & Regulation, Telecoms & Broadband Trey HanburySarah K. Leggin

Viaero Violation: FCC Proposes $20k Penalty for Unauthorized/Unregistered Operations

The Enforcement Bureau (“Bureau”) proposed a $20,000 penalty against Viaero Wireless (“Viaero”) for allegedly transmitting in the 3650-3700 MHz band without authorization.

According to the FCC’s Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, the FCC received a complaint of interference from a licensed and registered station in the band and dispatched a field agent to investigate the issue. The field agent reportedly confirmed Viaero was transmitting from an unregistered station, and contacted Viaero to stop. Viaero complied, according to the notice. Roughly one month later, the Bureau sent a Notice of Violation to Viaero regarding the unauthorized transmissions. In response, Viaero admitted to transmitting for approximately two days without first registering its station and without coordinating with other licensees before operations. Viaero also told the FCC it had since registered its station and would not operate until completing frequency coordination with other licensees in the band. The FCC’s records confirm Viaero’s registration.

The FCC’s Part 1 and Part 90 rules prohibit the operation of unauthorized/unregistered stations. In the 3650-3700 MHz band, a licensee cannot operate a station before registering it and coordinating with other licensees in the band in order to prevent harmful interference to others sharing the band, including the future Citizens Broadband Radio Service.

The unauthorized operation may have resulted from an innocent mistake. According to Viaero, its operations team simply assumed that its station had been registered and conducted testing for about two days when it had not. Despite this explanation, the Bureau tentatively found that Viaero violated the FCC’s Part 1 and Part 90 rules, and proposed a fine of $20,000, the base forfeiture penalty established by its Part 1 rules ($10,000 fine for operation without an authorization per day). Given the totality of the circumstances, the Bureau found no upward or downward adjustment was warranted. The Bureau gave Viaero the standard 30 days from the release of the notice to pay the forfeiture penalty (until March 11, 2019), or, alternatively, file a written statement supported by documentation and affidavits seeking reduction or cancellation of the proposed forfeiture.

This decision underscores the importance of knowing the service rules that apply to each band and ensuring compliance with them. If an operator discovers a violation, prompt corrections, transparency, and engagement with the FCC can help mitigate the risk of large penalties. Viaero’s responsiveness to the Bureau and corrective actions may have prevented the FCC from imposing a higher fine this time. But operators should note that the Bureau said “action against unregistered operators is essential” because unregistered stations “undermine the Commission’s primary mission to manage radio spectrum.”