NCTA: FTC Needs to Maintain Light Regulatory Touch

NCTA: The Internet & Television Association said the Federal Trade Commission needs to take a light-touch approach to regulating the wildly competitive communications marketplace, but apply that touch to everyone in the space.

That came in comments this week in advance of months-long FTC hearings on what, if any, changes need to be made to how the agency protects competition and consumer welfare in the digital age.

That also comes as that job is getting bigger with the FCC's deregulation of network neutrality rules, which puts the primary oversight of ISP conduct in the hands, quite capable hands NCTA argues, of the FTC.

Related: FTC Won't Be Neutral on Net Neutrality

NCTA pointed out that when the FTC last undertook such a review—in 2007—it concluded that in the areas of burgeoning competition and innovation, it should take a cautious approach to regulation, and rely on market forces in the absence of demonstrable consumer harm. NCTA said that was the right approach then, and is even more so today.

"[T]he record of expanding output and growing competition in markets for voice, video, and data services is emblematic of a healthy marketplace and argues against the existence of any significant market failure warranting intrusive regulation specific to the broadband marketplace," it told the commission.

But whatever the FTC decides to do, NCTA said, "at a minimum, there is plainly no reasonable basis in today’s marketplace for singling out ISPs for unique regulatory burdens. To the contrary, as discussed further below, recent experience suggests that large internet platform providers pose a greater risk to internet openness and consumer privacy than ISPs."

Related: Content Creators Seek FTC Help From Edge 'Abuses'

NCTA still said it thinks that whoever is regulated, such a regime should be based on market forces plus "evenhanded" case-by-case enforcement of unfair or anticompetitive business practices.

It also put in a plug for stating up front that state attempts to regulate privacy and data security that run counter to a federal approach are preempted. "Balkanized privacy regulation that differs from state to state would only confuse consumers," it said, citing California's Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, which passed earlier this year and conflicts with federal law.

The California law also applies only to ISPs, which does not sit well with NCTA, particularly if it becomes a road map for other states. "[A] patchwork of state-level rules applying only to BIAS providers would undercut existing federal policy basing enforcement on what information is collected and how it is used, rather than on who is collecting the information," NCTA said.

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.