NCTA to FCC: Broadband Privacy Approach Out of Step

Joins with other trade groups to push back on eve of hearing

WASHINGTON — Tech and communications trade association heads, including National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Michael Powell, have sent a joint letter to the leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee telling them to steer the Federal Communications Commission 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," the trade association heads — including Powell, CTIA-The Wireless Association CEO Meredith Attwell Baker and USTelecom CEO Walter McCormick — said in a letter address to Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

The letter was sent on the eve of Commerce’s July 12 oversight hearing on FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's broadband privacy proposal. Wheeler and the other FCC Democrats have proposed new rules on broadband user information privacy, including an opt-in regime for most third-party uses of that information.

Such an opt-in regime would be different from the approach the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had been taking to broadband privacy before the FCC deeded itself that authority by reclassifying Internet-service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. The FTC, which has more limited rulemaking authority, was enforcing voluntary privacy policies that violated laws against false and deceptive conduct.

The NCTA and company said the FCC's approach was inconsistent with consumer expectations and clashed with important Internet policies guiding the Web-driven economy.

A big issue for the NCTA and others is that the FTC still oversees how edge providers use the Web information they collect and share under the “enforcing voluntary privacy policies” umbrella, while the FCC intends to apply more prescriptive rules on ISPs.

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

“The FCC’s proposed rules are also seriously out of step with the technology-neutral approach — applied to both ISPs and non-ISPs — that 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 said the FCC’s approach would not do.