Why the FCC delayed new privacy regulations for AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast

Last year, the Wheeler-led FCC passed a set of rules that require Internet service providers (ISPs) to obtain opt-in consent for the collection of sensitive information, opt-out consent for any other information, and heightened disclosure for "pay for privacy" options.

New Federal Communications Commission's Chairman Ajit Pai is hitting the pause button on internet privacy regulations put in place during the Obama administration, which wireless and broadband companies have complained are unfair. To do away with these essential protections through the Congressional Review Act would be shortsighted.

Opponents of the FCC's new rules said that targeting Internet service providers specifically is unfair given the small amount of data they collect on consumers compared to other online entities. CDT expressed these concerns to the FCC when we formally opposed a stay of the rules.

All the speakers argued that ISPs are essentially monopolies, so consumers have little choice between giving up their info or acceding to their practices.

On the other hand, privacy advocates have noted that ISPs are more capable of collecting data than websites and other companies, as ISPs are responsible for providing the connections to those websites and companies. The FTC has no such opt-in requirements for the data collection and sharing of edge providers like Google and Facebook.

The transparency protections were meant to help consumers make informed decisions when signing up with an ISP, but Pai considers it far more important to rid these broadband providers of "onerous reporting obligations".




The vote on the FCC framework was 3-2, with one concurrence from Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn, over the absence of a prohibition on mandatory arbitration clauses, and two strong dissents from Republican commissioners.

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (left), and Pai.

"The FCC's public interest review standard plays a valuable role in consumer protection and ensuring competition".

Separately Monday, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, asked the GAO to study the broadband regulatory landscape given the fluctuating authority issues and ongoing threats to consumer data and security. Our communities need strong privacy rules. In the past, that scrutiny has come from both the Department of Justice and the FCC, in the case of a telecoms deal. So the FTC won't be protecting the privacy of ISP customers unless ISPs are reclassified. Who can harmonize anything when no one knows what rules are even going to take effect and the leadership is arbitrarily unmaking rules it passed months ago? Moreover, the FCC is not hamstrung moving forward.

When the FCC initially voted on these rules previous year, Tom Wheeler, the former chairman, argued internet service providers should be subject to stricter privacy rules because they function differently than websites.

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