FCC privacy proposal draws fire from telcos, industry groups

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's privacy proposal targeting broadband ISPs is drawing fire from traditional telcos and some industry watchers, which say that the proposal goes too far in singling out one group in the Internet ecosystem.

Before the FCC issued new rules governing net neutrality last year, broadband ISPs had to abide by the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) privacy regime. The FTC's rules prohibited ISPs from making deceptive and unfair trade practices.

The FCC's latest Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on ISP privacy suggests a framework for ensuring that U.S. consumers are able to make "informed choices" about how their data is used by ISPs. The commission will vote on the NPRM at its upcoming monthly meeting on March 31.

Bob Quinn, senior VP of federal regulatory for AT&T, said in a blog post that the FCC's proposal is lopsided.

"Asymmetric regulation which favors some competitors and disfavors others with no rational justification in law or policy distorts the marketplace and ultimately harms consumers," Quinn said.

Quinn added that as the FCC assumes oversight of privacy issues related to ISPs, which are part of the regulator's controversial Title II Order, "AT&T has and will continue to advocate for a framework that is based on the FTC approach."

Likewise, TechFreedom was equally critical of the FCC's proposal, calling it nothing more than a way for the regulator to gain additional power of the Internet ecosystem.

"The FCC is 'solving' a problem entirely of its own making," said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom. "There was no 'regulatory vacuum' over broadband privacy until the FCC 'stole the FTC's jurisdictional lunch money,' using 'strong net neutrality' as pretext for a naked regulatory power grab."

Under Wheeler's proposal, the regulator wants to separate the use and sharing of information into three categories and the adoption of clear guidance for both ISPs and customers about the transparency, choice and security requirements for that information. 

The scope of the proposed rulemaking does not apply to websites such as Twitter and Facebook, over which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has authority, other types of services offered by a broadband provider, such as operation of a social media website, or issues such as government surveillance, encryption or law enforcement. 

In tandem with issuing the NPRM, Wheeler wrote a piece in the Huffington Post where he told American consumers that the proposal only addresses broadband ISPs like AT&T and Verizon.

"One of the most important things to remember about this proposal is that it is narrowly focused on the personal information collected by network providers," Wheeler said. "The privacy practices of the websites that you choose to visit are not covered by this proposal. Indeed, there are other federal and state agencies, namely the Federal Trade Commission, that do a great job dealing with such companies and their privacy practices." 

For more:
- see this FCC fact sheet (PDF)
- see this AT&T blog post

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