NCTA to FCC: Broadband Privacy Approach Out of Step

Tech and communications trade association heads, including the National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell, CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker and USTelecom President Walter McCormick, backed a joint letter to the leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee telling them to steer the FCC toward a different approach to broadband privacy.

"We are hopeful that your examination of these issues will lead to an FCC approach that closely harmonizes FCC privacy rules with the existing Federal Trade Commission framework and is consistent with the Administration’s guiding principles for privacy and security in the internet economy," they said.

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The letter was addressed to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson D-Fla.) on the eve of their July 12 oversight hearing on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's broadband privacy proposal.

Wheeler and the other commission Democrats are proposing new rules on broadband user information privacy, including an opt-in regime for most third-party uses of that info.

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That would be different from the approach the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was taking to broadband privacy before the FCC deeded itself that authority by reclassifying ISPs under Title II. The FTC, which has more limited rulemaking authority, was enforcing voluntary privacy policies that violated laws against false and deceptive conduct.

NCTA and company said the FCC's approach was inconsistent with consumer expectations and clashed with important internet policies guiding the internet economy.

Related: Sen. Flake Wants Answers on Broadband Privacy Extension

A big issue with NCTA and others is that the FTC still oversees how edge providers use the Web info they collect and share under the "enforcing voluntary privacy policies" while the FCC applied more prescriptive rules on ISPs.

They also point out that in other privacy areas--like app privacy and facial recognition--the Obama Administration has sought to have stakeholders come up with voluntary guidelines rather than have government impose prescriptive regs.

Related: AT&T—FCC Likely Turning Deaf Ear to Privacy Comments

"The FCC’s proposed rules are also seriously out of step with the technology-neutral approach – applied to both ISPs and non-ISPs – that has guided the Administration’s many efforts on privacy and cybersecurity policy, with great success," they wrote.

The groups also point out that they have volunteered an approach more in keeping with the FTC's that would "address the potential for genuine consumer harm, allow consumers to exercise appropriate control over how information about them is used and shared, and provide the flexibility that is necessary to promote innovation and competition," something they say the FCC approach would not do.

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.