Clyburn, McSweeny Make Last-Minute Broadband Privacy Pitch

Democratic commissioners Mignon Clyburn (Federal Communications Commission) and Terrell McSweeny (Federal Trade Commission) made a last-ditch pitch for the FCC's broadband privacy rules after Congress last week voted to repeal them.

Before the President makes it official with a stroke of the pen, the pair took to the op ed page of the Los Angeles Times to make their case.

In a nutshell, it was that "if the legislation approved by Congress becomes law, there will be no privacy rules governing broadband providers. The FCC no longer will be able to protect consumer privacy and, because of arcane restraints on its jurisdiction, the FTC will be unable to pick up the slack."

The rules were repealed under a Congressional Review Act resolution, which specifies that "substantially similar" rules could not be re-adopted (unless Congress passed a law saying they could).

They argue that the vast majority of people want the "common sense protections." They say having different rules applying to ISPs—the FCC rules require subs to opt-in for collection and third-party sharing of web, app and geolocation data—and edge providers—Google and Facebook do not have to get opt-in permission for their collection and third-party sharing—will not cause consumer confusion.

The FCC, on a straight Democratic vote including Clyburn's, concluded last fall that there is a qualitative difference between the edge and ISPs because web surfers can choose not to go to websites and use search engines depending on their privacy protections, while many do not have a choice in ISPs.

"Last year’s election was fought over many issues; removing privacy protections from American consumers was not one of them," they wrote. "We have yet to hear from a single consumer who wants less control over their sensitive personal data. Unfortunately, that is exactly what this legislation would do. It is our hope that President Trump, who was elected by arguing that he would stand up for the average American, does what most Americans would expect and vetoes this legislation."

But the White House has already been heard from. Press secretary Sean Spicer said last week that the privacy rules were just the sort of regulation the President wanted to get rid of.

"The White House supports Congress using its authority under the Congressional Review Act to roll back last year’s FCC rules on broadband regulation," Spicer said in comments before a daily press briefing last week.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.