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FCC Issues Guidance on Broadband Privacy

The FCC has signaled ISPs that if they have any doubts about how they should protect broadband consumer privacy under new Title II regs, it would be a good idea to run it by the FCC.

Amid calls from ISPs for more clarity about how the FCC will enforce customer privacy under its new Title II authority, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau has provided some guidance in the form of an advisory.

The bureau said that it would be looking for "good faith" efforts to comply with privacy protections, and that seeking bureau input would tend to show such "good faith."

The FCC's reclassification of ISPs under Title II common carrier is scheduled to take effect June 12 absent a court stay, and will give the FCC oversight of broadband customer proprietary network information (CPNI) once the purview of the Federal Trade Commission.

But while the FCC said it would not forbear from applying Title II privacy regs under Sec. 222, it said it would not simply transfer the phone rules to ISPs, but instead likely launch a rulemakingto come up with new rules.

"The Commission has found that absent privacy protections, a broadband provider’s use of personal and proprietary information could be at odds with its customers’ interests and that if consumers have concerns about the protection of their privacy, their demand for broadband may decrease," the bureau pointed out in its enforcement advisory.

During the gap between when the rules go into effect and the FCC takes further action or guidance, the bureau said it intends to focus on "on whether broadband providers are taking reasonable, good-faith steps to comply with Section 222, rather than focusing on technical details."

The bureau said it would offer additional formal, and informal, guidance and pointed out that broadband providers can also request advisory opinions on whether their conduct "comports with the open Internet order.

The bureau did not say ISP's have to seek that guidance, but did suggest it would be a good idea. "Although no broadband provider is in any way required to consult with the Enforcement Bureau, the existence of such a request for guidance will tend to show that the broadband provider is acting in good faith." 

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.