It is no secret that robocalls, the automated phone calls that always seem to interrupt dinner, are a growing problem in the U.S. YouMail, a developer of robocall-blocking software, said that customers received an estimated 2.4 billion robocalls per month in 2016. And this week, the Department of Justice cracked down on one of the most egregious offenders, slapping a $280 million fine on Dish Network.
On Monday, satellite television provider Dish was found guilty of coordinating calls to consumers on do-not-call lists in four states. In a ruling this week, U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough wrote that the company knew its contractors were violating do-not-call laws “and did nothing,” and that its retail sales managers “showed little concern with compliance.”
Under terms of the ruling, Dish Network is prohibited from violating do-not-call laws going forward, and must agree to a 20-year plan constricting its telemarketing. The judge wrote that she’s “convinced that at least some in Dish management do not believe that Dish really did anything wrong or harmed anyone with these millions and millions of illegal calls. The evidence supports the conclusion that the pressure needs to be maintained to keep Dish’s marketing personnel from reverting to their practice of trying to get around rules.”
About $168 million of the record fine of $280 million will to the federal government, while the four states with standing — California, Illinois, North Carolina, and Ohio — will pocket another $84 million. The remaining $28 million in fines will go to California, North Carolina, and Ohio, respectively, for violations of state law.
Nicole Navas Oxman, a Justice Deparment spokeswoman, told Bloomberg that the fines imposed by the judge were the “largest ever” in a robocall case.
The ruling comes eight years after the U.S. and four states filed suit against Dish Network in 2009, alleging that the company ran afoul of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act and Telemarketing Sales Rule by making more than 55 million illegal calls. The U.S., which characterized Dish as a “serial telemarketing violator” in court documents, initially sought $900 million in fines; states asked for more than $23 billion.
Myerscough lowered the requests following the trial’s initial phase last year.
Dish took issue with Myerscough’s ruling, contending that penalties were “unfair” compared to recent telemarketing cases settled by companies including DirecTV, Comcast Corp., and Caribbean Cruise Lines.
“Dish has taken its compliance with telemarketing laws seriously, has and will continue to maintain rigorous telemarketing compliance policies and procedures, and has topped multiple independent customer service surveys along the way,” Dish spokesperson Bob Toevs told Bloomberg.
The prosecuting parties disagree. Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler said in a statement that the 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.”