NCTA Pans 'Asymmetric' Broadband Privacy Proposal

"Consumers’ private personal information should receive consistent protection across the broadband ecosystem," the National Cable & Telecommunications Association told the FCC, which means the commission should have harmonized its broadband privacy proposal with the Federal Trade Commission's approach. 

The NCTA urged the FCC not to impose asymmetric and prescriptive new rules that will likely lead to a "tedious, frustrating experience marred by frequent disruptions."

In comments on the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, NCTA said that the FCC has instead proposed an "asymmetric" framework, which means that ISPs are "singled out" for new regulatory "burdens" while edge providers remain under the more flexible FTC approach.

"This regulatory imbalance will lead to significant consumer confusion, upset common and settled Internet practices, inhibit competition, stifle innovation, and reduce consumer welfare. And it will do nothing to increase the privacy of consumer data, since the same data that ISPs will be constrained from using is accessible to and used by numerous other broadband entities subject to far less stringent restrictions."

Three of the main differences between the FTC approach and FCC approach, says NCTA, and where the FTC's is the wiser course, it suggests, are:

1) "The FTC exempts de-identified data from the notice-and-approval permissions regime, thereby encouraging companies to take effective measures to reduce privacy risks by anonymizing customer data. The Commission proposal subjects a broader scope of data to the permissions regime – including data items that cannot on their own identify specific persons – and offers no exception for data de-identified at the account or customer level.

2) "The FTC treats a broader set of first-party practices as part of the context of the relationship with the customer. The Commission’s proposed regime lists only a narrow set of uses where consent is implied, and the result will be to introduce considerable “friction” into the customer relationship and interfere with data flows in ways likely to disrupt current practices and annoy consumers.

3) "The FTC carefully examined the question of whether large platform providers, including major search engines and browser providers, as well as ISPs, should be subject to heightened restrictions and ultimately refrained from doing so. By contrast, the Commission’s proposal asserts that ISPs alone have unique, comprehensive access to the Internet activity data of their customers, ignoring both academic research and statements from privacy advocates."

The FCC, under chairman Tom Wheeler, has consistently identified ISPs as the prime potential disruptor of the "virtuous" internet circle and said that it does not have the authority to regulate edge providers.

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.