FTC Reform Bill Approved in House E&C

Following a markup in which some Democratic amendments were approved, but not the ones that they most sought, the House Communications Subcommittee voted to approve an FTC reform bill.

The vote was 30 to 20.

Among other things, the bill would clarify what conduct the Federal Trade Commission can cite for unfairness under its authority to go after unfair and deceptive practices and how it determines that to be the case. The Judiciary Committee is also considering the FTC reform bill.

Democrats argue it is a way to weaken, if not gut, consumer protections. In fact, at least one Democrat in an FCC oversight hearing this week pointed out that while Republicans were arguing that the FTC-like authority over broadband privacy was a model the FCC should adopt for protecting consumer privacy, elsewhere they were trying to weaken that FTC regulatory authority.

The current statute says: "The Commission shall have no authority...to declare unlawful an act or practice on the grounds that such act or practice is unfair unless the act or practice causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers which is not reasonably avoidable by consumers themselves and not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition."

The bill defines what is substantial injury for consumers and how the FTC will determine whether a practice is likely to cause that harm. It also puts time limits on some consent agreements—deals the FTC strikes with companies to avoid lawsuits—and inactive investigations.

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.