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When David Solomon and his crew of 65 lawyers first opened up shop three years ago as the enforcement arm of the Federal Communications Commission, the telecommunications industry didn’t exactly quake with fear. After all, Solomon acknowledges, “People didn’t think of the FCC as a serious [law] enforcement agency.” And no wonder — standard operating procedure for a company accused of wrongdoing was “to come in and say, ‘Jeez, we’re really sorry. We won’t do it again,’ ” Solomon says. But that’s not good enough any more. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is now a force to be reckoned with, collecting a record $29 million in fines in 2002. Some cases are strictly consumer protection matters. For example, in August, Fax.com was fined $5 million for sending out unsolicited junk faxes. In September, two operator services were slapped with a $6.5 million forfeiture for violations relating to “fat finger dialing” — when a consumer accidentally misdials a number like “1-800-Collect” and instead of paying a few cents a minute, is charged $2, $3, or even $8 a minute, without warning. But industry giants have been hit hard too. In January, SBC Communications Inc. shelled out $6 million for violating a competition-related condition of its merger with the Ameritech Corp., then paid another $3.6 million in May for filing incorrect affidavits in applications to provide long-distance service. As a result, SBC has opened an office just to focus on FCC compliance. More recently, AT&T Wireless was fined $2 million for violating Enhanced 911 rules in October. “Our actions against major companies shows the commission takes competition seriously,” says Solomon. The 325-person bureau was created in 1999 as part of former Chairman William Kennard’s effort to reorganize the FCC, bringing together lawyers and technical experts scattered throughout the agency. Solomon, a one-time Crowell & Moring associate and at that time deputy general counsel at the agency, was tapped to organize, then head the new bureau. Those who know the 48-year-old Harvard graduate say he is conscientious and has instilled a sense of professionalism in the bureau. In an interview, Solomon is relaxed and amiable. His enthusiasm for his job is unmistakable. “It’s been the greatest experience of my career,” he says. “I got to take an idea — make the FCC a more credible enforcement agency — and set it up.” FCC Chairman Michael Powell is trying to give the Enforcement Bureau even more teeth and has asked Congress to raise maximum penalties from $120,000 per incident to $1 million for a single violation; and from $1.2 million to $10 million for continuing violations. “Positive rules to promote competitive entry are meaningless without a credible enforcement effort to back them up,” Powell told Senate appropriators in March. Solomon says the bureau will continue to focus on violations of the competition provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as well as an increased emphasis on public safety. On the consumer protection front, telephone solicitors who leave recorded messages on answering machines are in his cross hairs. “But we never really know what’s coming,” he says. “We move into areas where we see problems.” Some telecommunications lawyers say the current fines are already steep enough to serve as deterrents. “Companies care a lot about these forfeitures,” says Wiley, Rein & Fielding partner Robert Pettit, who served as general counsel of the FCC from 1989 to 1992. “They have to justify them to the board of directors and shareholders, and obviously, they don’t like to see them. It’s not a matter of multibillion dollar companies assuming a big fine from the FCC is a cost of doing business.”

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