AT&T Supports Blackburn's Proposed Broadband Privacy Bill

AT&T is throwing its support behind a proposed online privacy bill that would restore some broadband privacy rules passed last year by the Federal Communications Commission.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) would require all Web companies -- broadband providers as well as businesses like social networking services and search engines -- to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before using their online browsing data for ad targeting. The measure, which tasks the Federal Trade Commission with enforcement, would also preempt state broadband privacy laws. Lawmakers in 19 states have introduced new broadband privacy measures since April, when Congress repealed the FCC's nationwide privacy rules.

"I'm very much in favor of Congresswoman Blackburn's privacy bill," AT&T Senior Vice President Bob Quinn said on the newest episode of C-Span's "The Communicators," slated to air on Saturday.

The Association of National Advertisers as well as the Internet Association -- which represents some of the largest Web companies -- oppose Blackburn's proposed privacy law.

Quinn praised the measure for several reasons, including that it will create the "same regulatory environment" for all companies, and will create one national framework. Quinn also suggested that Blackburn's bill would allow AT&T to charge customers higher fees if they refuse to consent to online tracking for ad targeting purposes.

AT&T previously rolled out that controversial type of pay-for-privacy pricing system -- which Quinn referred to as "ad-supported Internet service" -- in Austin, Texas. The billing scheme involved charging higher monthly fees to customers who refused to accept ads targeted based on their Web activity. Last year, AT&T retreated from that approach and said it would instead charge all subscribers the lowest rates offered for their speed tiers.

Quinn suggested that the company may try again to roll out that type of pricing structure. "We got an enormous amount of criticism from privacy advocates when we rolled out, in Austin, Texas, an ad-supported Internet service... Privacy advocates screamed about that," Quinn said.

He added, however, that he believes attitudes will change in the future. "As the privacy revolution evolves, I think people are going to want more control, and maybe that's the pricing model that's ultimately what consumers want."

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