FCC Chairman Pai moves to block broadband privacy rules

Posted February 28, 2017

Small ISPs have argued the transparency rules amount to burdensome and costly regulations, while consumer advocates have argued that broadband customers have the right to know when a provider is throttling traffic.

"All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, and the Federal government shouldn't favor one set of companies over another", said Mark Wigfield, acting director of the FCC's Office of Media Relations. Without it, he threatens to instruct the FCC staff to delay part of the rules, on the heels of a potential commission vote. With ISPs, consumers have very little choice. O'Reilly has previously sided with Pai on opposing the privacy rules and the FCC's net neutrality order.

Republican Pai has promised to roll back numerous regulations passed while Democrat Tom Wheeler served as FCC chairman. The privacy order's data security obligations are scheduled to take effect on March 2, but Chairman Ajit Pai wants to prevent that from happening. Thanks to the Federal Communications Commission's new leadership, however, that deadline will now be extended indefinitely, and we have no idea if or when those rules will be enacted. The FCC has to determine that a merger is truly in the public interest for it to go through - and there's a lot of good reason to think combining a major internet and cable provider and a major TV and movie producer is a recipe for anticompetitive behavior.

Companies such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have petitioned the FCC to roll back these privacy rules, arguing that they give websites an advantage over internet service providers. When Pai voted against the rules previous year, he said that "consumers should not have to be network engineers to understand who is collecting their data and they should not have to be lawyers to determine if their information is protected".

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And the media is instrumental in holding the government accountable, she said. But she told the BBC that she remains "optimistic in the long run".

Under the data privacy rules, wireless and broadband companies are required to take "reasonable" steps to protect sensitive data.

FCC privacy rules already apply to telephone service. According to TechCrunch, the information includes browsing history, children's information, location, and Social Security numbers.

While FCC review of a merger involving AT&T (the nation's largest phone service provider, and second-largest pay-TV provider) and Time Warner (one of the biggest players in pay-TV content, with channels like CNN and HBO) might seem like it's destined for FCC review, AT&T has maintained that the combination of the two companies won't involve any swapping of airwave licenses, so the FCC need not involve itself.

"In an ongoing quest to dismantle basic consumer protections for broadband services, the majority has made a decision to exempt billion-dollar public companies from being transparent with consumers", Clyburn added. Even so, FCC can pause the data security element of the privacy rules without the vote, at least until the full FCC vote on the pending petitions to rethink the broader privacy rules is cast.