Skip to main content

Sprint-Cable JV: Privacy Rule Not an Issue

A new consumer-privacy rule from the Federal Communications Commission would block four large cable operators from sharing customer information with their wireless joint-venture partner, Sprint Nextel, under certain circumstances, but Sprint said the companies currently don’t trade any data that would violate the regulation.

The FCC order, issued Monday, restricts access to individual-customer calling records by data brokers and other third parties. The rule -- an extension to existing telecommunications-privacy regulations -- is intended to block “pretexting,” an attempt by an impersonator to obtain an individual’s phone records.

Sprint -- through its joint venture with Comcast, Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable and Advance/Newhouse Communications -- provides wireless-phone service under the brand name Pivot to the MSOs’ customers.

A report onTheWall Street Journal’s Web site Tuesday said that under the new rule, the cable operators “would be prevented from sharing customer data” with Sprint. The newspaper cited an unnamed telecommunications lawyer who suggested that the ruling presented “a serious challenge to the cable companies’ relationship with Sprint.”

In fact, the FCC’s new rule does not ban the sharing of customer data with JV partners in all cases. The prohibition is limited to information used for marketing activities: A phone provider must now obtain “opt-in consent” from a customer before disclosing that customer’s personally identifying data to a “joint venture partner or independent contractor for the purpose of marketing communications-related services to that customer.”

Sprint said the FCC’s anti-pretexting rule will not require any changes to the way it works with the MSOs because the members of the JV do not exchange private customer data for the purposes of direct-marketing campaigns.

“The FCC order does not jeopardize the cable partnership in any way,” Sprint spokeswoman Melinda Tiemeyer said. The rule, she added, “is not news to Sprint. We anticipated it. And we have developed sound practices that ensure privacy, will comply with the law and will ensure the success of the cable partnership.”

Representatives for the cable operators in the JV declined to comment.

FCC rules will continue to allow exchange of consumers’ personal data among JV partners in the course of regular operations.

The agency noted in Monday’s order that the opt-in rule does not affect a carrier’s permitted use of customer information under section 222(d) of the existing federal telecommunications code. That section allows telecommunications carriers to, among other things, share subscriber data with partners to “initiate, render, bill and collect for telecommunications services.”