Comcast: FCC Can't Prevent Pay-for-Privacy Option

Comcast, one of the nation's leading broadband access providers, says that the FCC has no authority to prevent ISPs from granting broadband customers price breaks or other considerations for allowing them to use their data.

That came in meetings with FCC officials last week, according to an ex parte filing. The commission is proposing new broadband privacy rules—including requiring consumers to opt into sharing their data with third parties for targeted marketing purposes.

Comcast said the prohibition "would harm consumers by, among other things, depriving them of lower-priced offerings, and as FTC Commissioner Ohlhausen points out, 'such a ban may prohibit ad-supported broadband services and thereby eliminate a way to increase broadband adoption.'" Broadband adoption is arguably the FCC's prime directive and one shared by the White House.

"A bargained-for exchange of information for service is a perfectly acceptable and widely used model throughout the U.S. economy, including the Internet ecosystem, and is consistent with decades of legal precedent and policy goals related to consumer protection and privacy," the company said.

As part of its proposal, the FCC is asking whether it should allow those customers to get remuneration for sharing. Comcast says that is not the FCC's call to make.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has not counted that option out. In an interview on NPR back in March to explain his proposal, Wheeler conceded that opting out of data collection might raise the cost of service but said the FCC was empowering consumers to say how their information was used, then "empowering them to say 'is there some value on my information and work, some kind of a deal with an Internet Service Provider to put a value on that information.'"

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.