Georgetown's Downes Is Down on FCC's Broadband Privacy Plan

Larry Downes, project director at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy, is no fan of the FCC's broadband privacy proposal and took the extra few days the FCC provided for official comment to tell it so.

Downes filed a letter in the docket referencing his article in the Harvard Business Review on what he says is the three major problems with the FCC proposal.

Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed requiring that subs opt in to most third party uses of their broadband data—like what sites they surf—including for the targeted marketing that drives much web advertising. Edge providers like search engines and sites have no such restriction on their use of web data.

In his letter, Downes boiled his criticisms down to those three main points:

"False Premise – The FCC’s assumption that ISPs have 'unique' access to consumer information is flatly wrong. Thanks to a nearly-complete campaign to encrypt information flow, ISPs are largely blind to the kind of sensitive information the FCC claims as its chief motivation for the rulemaking.

"Double Standard – Leaving out the dominant 'edge' providers who are in fact the 'gatekeepers' of transactional information unnecessarily subjects consumers to two sets of different rules and different enforcement mechanisms for information exchange. 

"Transaction Costs of 'Opt-In' – Subjecting ISPs and ISPs alone to 'opt-in' requirements for nearly any use of consumer information, as all economists agree, significantly raises the transaction costs of precisely the kind of information exchanges that have so far fueled the 'cycle of innovation' that elsewhere the FCC praises as the source of the Internet’s phenomenal success. To do so only for those providers who have the least access to transaction data is both arbitrary and capricious."

The FCC last week extended the comment deadline from June 27 to July 6.

When the FCC reclassified broadband as a Title II common carrier, it assumed regulatory oversight from the Federal Trade Commission.

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.