An eight-year investigation into Dish Networks, a direct-broadcast satellite service provider, resulted Monday in the largest fine ever levied for privacy invasion, with Dish facing a $280m bill.
The US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission brought the case after multiple complaints that people trying to sell the pay-per-view TV provider's services were ignoring the Do Not Call registry and disturbing people who really didn't appreciate the interruption. After investigating the case, the FTC handed it to the DoJ, which filed suit in 2009.
"The National Do Not Call Registry is a popular federal program for the public to reduce the number of unwanted sales calls," said acting assistant attorney general Chad Readler of the Justice Department's Civil Division.
"This case demonstrates the Department of Justice's commitment to smart enforcement of consumer protection laws, and sends a clear message to businesses that they must comply with the Do Not Call rules."
In a 475-page ruling [PDF], US District Judge Sue Myerscough of the Central District of Illinois detailed how Dish Network had run a telemarketing campaign to persuade new customers to sign up and also to call former customers in an attempt to convince them to resubscribe.
Initially Dish ran the calling systems itself, but then outsourced some of the work to retail third-party call centers. Some of these played fast and loose with the rules and called people on the federal Do-Not-Call list who had specified that they didn't want to receive telemarketing calls.
"Dish's reckless decision to use anyone with a call center without any vetting or meaningful supervision demonstrates a disregard for the consuming public," the judge wrote.
"Dish caused millions and millions of violations of the Do Not Call Laws, and Dish has minimized the significance of its own errors in direct telemarketing and steadfastly denied any responsibility for the actions of its [retailers]. The injury to consumers, the disregard for the law, and the steadfast refusal to accept responsibility require a significant and substantial monetary award."
An estimated 55 million illegal calls were made in this manner, although Dish has constantly said that its third-party suppliers were to blame. The federal fine for each illegal robocall is $500, so Dish was facing a massive fine.
As it turned out, the televisual troubadours will have to pay $168m to the federal government and $84 million to California, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio for breaking federal law. California, North Carolina and Ohio in addition win a $28m payday for violations of state laws.
Dish will appeal the verdict, saying the financial penalties were too high and denying that it broke the law. ®