FCC Plans Broadband Privacy Crackdown

The Federal Communications Commission made clear on Thursday that after it restores the Obama-era net neutrality laws, it intends to issue new broadband privacy rules.

Broadband providers are “situated to collect vast swaths of sensitive information about their customers, including personal information, financial information, precise location information, and information regarding their online activity,” the FCC says in its proposed declaratory ruling and order on net neutrality.

That ability justifies new privacy regulations, the FCC says in its proposed net neutrality order, which is expected to be approved on April 25.

The agency adds it is “concerned” that without new rules, internet service providers “have minimal incentive to adopt adequate administrative, technical, physical, and procedural safeguards to protect their customers’ data from improper or excessive uses by providers themselves, or from further disclosure and misuse by third parties.”



The proposed net neutrality order reclassifies broadband as a “telecommunications” service, regulated under Title II of the Communications Act, and reinstates the Obama-era regulations -- including bans on blocking or throttling traffic and from creating paid fast lanes. Categorizing broadband as a telecommunications service also will allow the FCC to also craft new privacy rules.

The agency hasn't said what specific regulations it's likely to issue, but FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has repeatedly suggested that carriers shouldn't be allowed to sell customers' geolocation data. She also voted in 2016 to approve rules prohibiting internet service providers from harnessing data about subscribers' web activity and app usage for ad targeting. (Those rules were repealed by Congress the following year.)

The broadband industry opposed those 2016 rules, arguing to the FCC that internet service providers shouldn't be subject to more restrictive privacy standards than Google, Facebook or other online companies.

Business organizations, including the ad industry coalition Privacy for America, recently reiterated those arguments. That group wrote in a December FCC filing that broadband-only privacy requirements would result in “inconsistent privacy rules that would be difficult for consumers to understand.”

The wireless industry trade group CTIA also argued to the FCC in December that broadband privacy rules could lead to “consumer confusion.”

The FCC rejects those contentions in its proposed order, which essentially says there is no evidence that consumers view internet service providers the same way they view applications like Google Maps, YouTube, or TikTok.

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