Comcast Lobbies FCC To Block State Broadband Laws

Comcast is joining Verizon in asking the Federal Communications Commission to block states from attempting to regulate broadband providers.

The cable giant says in a new regulatory filing that it recently met with FCC officials and lobbied for a "clear, affirmative ruling that expressly confirms the primacy of federal law ... and that preempts state and local efforts to regulate BIAS (broadband internet access services) either directly or indirectly."

The company adds that "generally applicable state consumer protection authority" would still be allowed under its proposed approach, but only if there is no conflict with federal policy.



In other words, Comcast wants the FCC to declare that states can't pass their own net neutrality rules, should the agency move forward with Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to gut the current ones. The FCC's 2014 net neutrality rules classified broadband as a utility service and impose several common carrier rules on providers -- including bans on throttling and blocking, and on charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.

Pai has proposed reclassifying broadband as an information service. If the FCC does so, the agency arguably would no longer have the authority to stop broadband providers from throttling or blocking material, or from engaging in paid prioritization.

Comcast's filing also suggests it wants the agency to block state broadband privacy rules, although the document doesn't specifically mention the word privacy. Last year, the FCC passed regulations that would have required broadband providers to obtain subscribers' express permission before tracking their web use in order to serve them with targeted ads. Those rules were repealed by Congress this year. Broadband providers and ad groups cheered the move, but the decision wasn't popular with everyone: A survey by Huffington Post and YouGov showed that more than 70% of Republicans and Democrats wanted President Donald Trump to veto the repeal.

Since April, officials in around 20 states, including California and New York, introduced their own broadband privacy rules. Those efforts have not yet yielded new legislation, but some states could still move forward next year.

Just last week, the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute published model language for state privacy laws. The OTI's model bill not only prohibits broadband providers from tracking users for ad purposes without their consent, but also bans pay-for-privacy schemes that involve charging customers higher fees to avoid ad targeting.

AT&T, which pioneered pay-for-privacy, until recently charged some U-Verse customers up to $66 a month to avoid having their web-browsing activity used for ad purposes. Last year, AT&T abandoned that pricing model. Comcast, however, recently indicated an interest in exploring pay-for-privacy billing. "A bargained-for exchange of information for service is a perfectly acceptable and widely used model throughout the U.S. economy, including the Internet ecosystem, and is consistent with decades of legal precedent and policy goals related to consumer protection and privacy," Comcast told the FCC last year.

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