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Alan Diaz / AP

Just over two years ago, the FCC proposed a $100 million fine against AT&T for misleading consumers, the largest penalty the agency had ever recommended. Now that headline-grabbing fine appears all but dead.

Why it matters: If finalized, the fine would have set significant precedent for the size of FCC enforcement actions and the treatment of internet service providers' promises about broadband speed and access. But the agency's new leader — Republican Ajit Pai — is likely to avoid pursuing the fine, as he's long contended it was "drawn out of thin air" and should never have been proposed in the first place.

The setup: When AT&T discontinued its unlimited wireless data plans for new customers in 2010, it said millions of the people with the plans could keep them. But it later drastically slowed down the speed at which they could access that data once they'd hit a certain cap. The FCC said that AT&T hadn't properly disclosed that practice, and proposed in June of 2015 that the carrier face a $100 million fine.

The counterpoint: AT&T said its conduct was legal. "We have been fully transparent with our customers, providing notice in multiple ways and going well beyond the FCC's disclosure requirements," the company said at the time. It later filed a formal response to the agency's allegations.

Since then — crickets from the FCC.

Why it happened: Former Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler could have acted on the fine proposal by reaching a settlement with AT&T or bringing an order on the case to a vote. Neither happened. Wheeler indicated to Axios that the decision to proceed with the fine would have started with the Enforcement Bureau at the agency, led at the time by Travis LeBlanc.

"The way I believed in managing, and I think that the essence of good management, is to get good smart people and give them responsibility and tell them to exercise that," Wheeler said.

In addition, the Federal Trade Commission has also been locked in unresolved litigation related to this particular practice at AT&T — a case with big implications for the agency's jurisdiction.

All but dead? Pai just announced a new enforcement chief, Rosemary Harold. "I expect that this will not be put to a vote and that the chairman will just not move it or will find some mechanism at the bureau level to dismiss it," LeBlanc told Axios.

The FCC declined to comment on a pending enforcement action. A spokesman for AT&T declined to comment beyond the company's previous statement.

Go deeper

Axios-Ipsos poll: Trust in federal coronavirus response surges

Data: Axios/Ipsos survey; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Trust surged in the federal government since President Biden's inauguration when it comes to COVID-19 — but that's almost entirely because of Democrats gaining confidence, according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

The big picture: Americans reported the biggest improvement in their mental and emotional health since our survey began last March, and the highest trust levels since April about the federal government providing them accurate virus information and looking out for their best interests.

7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

McConnell drops filibuster demand, paving way for power-sharing deal

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (R) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attend a joint session of Congress. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has abandoned his demand that Democrats state, in writing, that they would not abandon the legislative filibuster.

Between the lines: McConnell was never going to agree to a 50-50 power sharing deal without putting up a fight over keeping the 60-vote threshold. But the minority leader ultimately caved after it became clear that delaying the organizing resolution was no longer feasible.

8 hours ago - Technology

Scoop: Google won't donate to members of Congress who voted against election results

Sen. Ted Cruz led the group of Republicans who opposed certifying the results. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Google will not make contributions from its political action committee this cycle to any member of Congress who voted against certifying the results of the presidential election, following the deadly Capitol riot.

Why it matters: Several major businesses paused or pulled political donations following the events of Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters, riled up by former President Trump, stormed the Capitol on the day it was to certify the election results.

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