McSweeny to FCC: FTC's Consumer Protection Authority Insufficient to Discipline ISPs

Democratic FTC commissioner Terrell McSweeny has doubts that the commission's consumer protection authority is sufficient to discipline the actions of ISPs if Title II is rolled back and the FTC regains ISP oversight.

She says reversing Title II would harm consumers and the push to have the FTC regulate both edge providers—as they do now—and ISPs—as they once did—"mistakenly establishes a false equivalence between the static [and largely noncompetitive, she argues] broadband service provider marketplace on the one hand and the dynamic competition offered on the 'edge.'"

"The FTC is a highly expert consumer protection and competition enforcement agency, but there are limits to the effectiveness of our tools in policing nondiscrimination on networks and protecting competition in markets that are already highly concentrated."

FTC chairman Maureen Ohlhausen, in her comments to the FCC, said she thought the FTC's expertise in privacy and data security were sufficient, in combination with market forces, to discipline the marketplace via an enforcement approach. 

McSweeny points out that ISPs could change their terms of service at will, and so long as they were not deceptive, the FTC could do nothing about them beyond requiring ISPs to adhere to them, whatever they were.

McSweeny also said that antitrust laws may not cover the public interest issues associated with the ability to access content or express themselves online.

(Photo via New America's Flickr. Image taken on July 20, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 9x16 aspect ratio.)

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.