Steve Augustino’s telecommunications practice is both broad and deep, ranging from regulatory, legislative and administrative law counsel to transactional advice, advocacy and litigation. An advocate since the early days of competition in telecommunications, Steve has guided clients through the shifting policies, exponential growth and extraordinary innovation in the telecommunications industry over the last 25 years. His clients include companies and organizations from developing and established markets, including major wireless service providers, manufacturers, trade associations and emerging telecom businesses.
Steve is experienced in enforcement, investigations and audits of communications companies. He represents telecommunications service providers in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforcement actions, including Universal Service Fund (USF) compliance investigations and Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) reporting audits. His enforcement experience includes investigations involving USF contribution obligations, Lifeline, e-rate and other USF benefit payments, customer proprietary network information (CPNI) obligations, third-party billing (“cramming”), 911 call-handling obligations, network outage reporting, prepaid card marketing, fax marketing and other carrier practices.
Notably, Steve offers unique experience with respect to the $8.5 billion per year federal USF. For more than a decade, Steve has been considered a leading lawyer in USF contribution obligations, handling complex Universal Service reporting questions, advising on USF issues in transactions and representing filers in audits and enforcement investigations relating to reporting or failure to pay. For recipients of the USF, Steve counsels his clients on all issues pertaining to the Lifeline program, e-rate and Rural Healthcare–related matters.
Regarding the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), Steve is involved in counseling and appeals concerning the use of auto-dialers, calls and texts to mobile telephone numbers and receipt of customer consent. Teaming with litigation colleagues in the TCPA defense practice, Steve advocates for clients in FCC petitions, waiver proceedings and declaratory ruling proceedings involving TCPA issues. Steve represented intervenors in an appeal of the FCC’s 2015 Declaratory Ruling on TCPA matters, and provides counseling and strategic advice on calling, texting and faxing practices by businesses and service providers.
Throughout his career, Steve has provided advice to emerging communications-related service and technology companies. He has been involved with a variety of new and pioneering technologies, including web-based conferencing and collaboration, mobile games and apps, hosted VoIP, texting and wi-fi management. Steve actively works with these companies to guide their practices and services according to their business objectives, and to determine which regulatory “box” is most advantageous for the client’s objectives.
Steve currently serves as co-chair of the Federal Communications Bar Association’s enforcement committee, and is a frequent commentator on FCC enforcement activities. Steve is a regular contributor to the firm’s Communications team webinars, blog (CommLawMonitor) and podcasts.
USAC Audits and Appeals
Represented one of the largest IP and Ethernet networks in a USF administrator’s audit of $1.5 billion in revenues and a subsequent FCC appeal. The case led to a leading clarification of wholesale/resale USF contribution obligations. Our client received a significant refund on remand of the appeal.
Represented a telecom and broadband provider in central Texas in a multiyear audit and the subsequent FCC appeal. The FCC granted all three issues on appeal, leading to refunds for DSL (broadband) revenues, Subscriber Line Charge assessments and reseller classification issues.
Represented the U.S. affiliate of a foreign telecom company in an administrator’s audit of their revenues. Successfully argued that most of the revenues were foreign (non-U.S.) revenue not subject to USF assessments. The appeal on a portion of international revenue is pending at the FCC.
Represented a public holding company in an appeal of the administrator’s denial of corrective USF filings. Received a waiver of the late-filing prohibition, allowing the client to correct an error and receive several million dollars in refunds.
Represented a global leader in web conferencing and collaboration technology in a similar appeal, which established the ability to receive waivers for late filing of the annual true-up revenue report (Form 499-A). Our client received a substantial refund.
Currently representing several international wholesale telecom providers in USAC audits of their revenue reporting involving issues of the classification of international wholesale services.
Represented several MPLS providers in audits addressing the classification of advanced virtual private network services.
Conferencing and Collaboration
Represented the largest provider of audio conferencing services in a USAC dispute and FCC appeal regarding the classification of audio conferencing services.
Currently advising conferencing companies on classification, USF/regulatory fee assessments and disabilities access obligations of audio, web and video conferencing services.
USF Recipients and Beneficiaries
Represented a major Lifeline carrier in investigations and proposed enforcement alleging fraudulent behavior by third-party sales agents.
Represented a consortium of rural schools under the e-rate program in an investigation into alleged gifts received from a service provider. The investigation was resolved with no finding of improper gifts, and full funding was retained by the consortium.
Represented an e-rate applicant in a USAC audit of its disbursements for broadband service support.
Currently assisting e-rate service providers in investigations and reimbursement difficulties.
Currently counseling e-rate service providers on “lowest corresponding price” obligation and competitive bidding rules in the e-rate program.
Represented multiple Lifeline service providers in USAC audits and “PQAs” of Lifeline reimbursement requests.
Enforcement (Consumer Protection)
Represented over a dozen carriers in consumer protection enforcement actions dating back to the 1990s, including slamming, cramming and “fat finger dialing” cases.
Represented a company that provides 911 and emergency communications infrastructure, systems and services to telecommunications service providers and government public safety agencies in the United States and worldwide in an investigation of a multistate 911 outage in 2014.
Represented an American telecommunications holding company that provides wireless services and is a major global Internet carrier in a multiagency investigation of the carrier’s third-party billing practices for premium SMS messaging services.
Represented a dial-around long distance carrier in an FCC enforcement action proposing several million dollars in fines for allegedly deceptive marketing. The FCC let the statute of limitations expire without imposing a fine.
Represented several prepaid calling card providers in FCC investigations of their marketing disclosures to consumers. Two of the investigations were closed without the FCC taking action. Two have proceeded to forfeitures (fines), which are being challenged in court by the providers.
Enforcement (Other Matters)
Represented a conferencing provider in an enforcement action for failing to file CPNI. Successfully challenged the FCC’s authority to issue a fine, given its classification of audio bridging services.
Represented several carriers in investigations of their failure to pay USF assessments or late payment of USF assessments.
Represented a nationwide provider of telecommunications relay services for the deaf in investigations of billing errors and reimbursement revisions relating to their provision of TRS services.
Currently representing service providers in False Claims Act complaints and FCC Inspector General investigations involving USF-related payments.
Counsel to intervenors in an appeal of an FCC 2015 Declaratory Ruling involving autodialers, reassigned wireless numbers and revocation of consent under the TCPA.
Represented a national wireless carrier in a multiagency enforcement investigation involving its third-party billing practices.
Represented a national telecommunications provider in connection with a multisite 911 outage investigation.
Represented the largest conferencing provider in a USF appeal concerning classification of its services.
Represented a large telecommunications provider in a USAC audit of Form 499-A filings. The USAC audit took 25 months and examined over $1 billion in revenues. The FCC remanded a portion of the appeal, resulting in substantial savings to the company.
Defended a prepaid calling card provider in an investigation of prepaid card marketing disclosures. The FCC closed the investigation without taking action.
Led a coalition of carriers pursuing high-capacity and broadband network elements during the FCC’s Triennial Review of unbundled network element obligations. The coalition was successful in obtaining rules that preserve access to these elements where competitive alternatives are not present.
Led an industry trade association in enforcing a statutory prohibition on a major telephone company’s ownership of alarm-monitoring companies. These efforts resulted in the FCC declaring over $1 billion in acquisitions to be unlawful.
American Bar Association
Federal Communications Bar Association, Enforcement Committee, current co-chair, 2013–present
Federal Communications Bar Association, Wireline Committee, former co-chair, 2011–2012