AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile declare legal war on FCC

The U.S.’s major wireless carriers are preparing to challenge the FCC over a fine totaling $200 million.

In statements provided to Mashable, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile signaled their intent to appeal the FCC’s fine, which was doled out to the companies for allegedly mishandling customers’ sensitive location-based data. 

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Earlier this week, the FCC announced that it was fining AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile for allegedly selling access to its own customers’ location data to “aggregators.” The aggregators then resold this access to other third-party, location-based service providers. 

In one specific case, one of these aggregators, a prison communication service company called Securus, provided access to a Mississippi sheriff who in turn used this data to track the location of people through their cell phones.

AT&T, Verizon, & T-Mobile challenge the FCC

According to the three big mobile carriers, the FCC is wrongly holding the big telecom companies responsible for the improper use of their customers’ data.

“The FCC order lacks both legal and factual merit,” said an AT&T spokesperson in a statement provided to Mashable. “It unfairly holds us responsible for another company’s violation of our contractual requirements to obtain consent, ignores the immediate steps we took to address that company’s failures, and perversely punishes us for supporting life-saving location services like emergency medical alerts and roadside assistance that the FCC itself previously encouraged.”

Verizon echoed AT&T’s statement in an email correspondence with Mashable.

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“In this case, when one bad actor gained unauthorized access to information relating to a very small number of customers, we quickly and proactively cut off the fraudster, shut down the program, and worked to ensure this couldn’t happen again,” a Verizon spokesperson said. 

T-Mobile, which has since merged with Sprint, also provided a response to Mashable’s inquiry.

“We take our responsibility to keep customer data secure very seriously and have always supported the FCC’s commitment to protecting consumers, but this decision is wrong, and the fine is excessive,” T-Mobile said.

It should be noted that each of the companies did appear to confirm that a third-party misused the location-data that T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T had shared with aggregators. The disagreement on the part of the telecommunications companies seems to be over whether they should be held responsible. The FCC’s decision clearly states that the government’s position is that they should be.

In their statements to Mashable, both T-Mobile and Verizon also mentioned how they no longer run the program that FCC is fining them over. According to Verizon, “FCC’s order concerns an old program that Verizon shut down more than half a decade ago.” T-Mobile stated that the “industry-wide third-party aggregator location-based services program was discontinued more than five years ago.”

AT&T also told Mashable that the program was “terminated in early 2019.”

All three companies told Mashable that they intend to appeal the fine.

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