Broadband Privacy Proposal Moving Too Fast, Regulator Says

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to seek comments about a sweeping proposal that would limit Internet service providers' ability to use online behavioral advertising techniques.

The proposed privacy rules would require Internet service providers to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before drawing on data about their Web-surfing history to send them targeted ads.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel voted with the majority, but seemed to express ambivalence about the proposal. "There are some contradictions here that make privacy complicated," she stated on the day of the vote.

Citing data from the Pew Research Center, Rosenworcel said that nine out of 10 Americans "believe that it is important to control what information is collected about themselves" and that an even higher proportion "believe it is important to be in control of who can get that information."



"At the same time," she added, "consumers know there is a value proposition associated with sharing their information -- in fact over half of consumers would agree to do so in exchange for something free."

Rosenworcel also pointed out that the FCC's notice of proposed rulemaking poses more than 500 questions to the public. "We ask questions about notice and how to ensure broadband providers have transparent policies. We ask questions about what requires consumer opt-in and what is better suited for opt-out," she said. "We ask about what to do to ensure data is secure and ask what recourse consumers deserve when it is compromised."

Now, Rosenworcel is suggesting that those questions will take longer to answer than the agency's current time frame allows. The agency has called for initial comments by May 27.

"I do believe that this is the kind of subject that is complicated and would benefit from a longer rulemaking," she said this week at The Internet and Television Expo in Boston, according to The Hill.

The two Republican Commissioners also said they think the agency should give the public more time to weigh in on the proposal.

Last month, the ad industry as well as cable and telecom groups had asked the FCC to extend the comment deadline. Privacy groups opposed that request, arguing that the proposed rules should not have been a surprise. "The public has long had notice of many of the questions the FCC would attempt to address in this proceeding because of the extensive interactions between the FCC, regulated entities, and the public," the organizations argued.

The agency denied the industry groups' request in late April. "A timely resolution of this proceeding will be beneficial for both consumers and industry alike, providing clarity and certainty going forward, and as such, an extension of the comment deadline is not in the public interest," the agency's Wireline Competition Bureau said in a written decision.

At the time, it seemed the decision seemed to signal that the FCC was inclined to vote in favor of the privacy proposal. But now that Rosenworcel is publicly questioning the wisdom of moving forward so quickly, the ultimate outcome appears in doubt.

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