FCC chair to block stricter broadband data privacy rules

File Photo: Ajit Pai speaks at a FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas File Photo: Ajit Pai speaks at a FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will block some Obama administration rules that subject broadband providers to stricter scrutiny than websites, a spokesman said on Friday, in a victory for internet providers such as AT&T Inc <T.N>, Comcast Corp <CMCSA.O> and Verizon Communications Inc <VZ.N>.

The rules approved by the FCC in October in a 3-2 vote were aimed at protecting sensitive personal consumer data, but the spokesman said Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman appointed by President Donald Trump, believes all companies in the “online space should be subject to the same rules, and the federal government should not favor one set of companies over another.”

FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said in a statement that the suspension affects only the data security rules, which are set to take effect on March 2. Some other aspects of the rules are under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Pai plans by March 2 to delay the implementation of some rules, which subject companies to stricter oversight than websites under Federal Trade Commission rules, the spokesman said. Such a temporary stay is a first step toward permanently preventing the rules from taking effect.

The rules would subject broadband internet service providers to more stringent requirements than websites like Facebook Inc <FB.O>, Twitter Inc <TWTR.N> or Alphabet Inc’s <GOOGL.O> Google.

Providers would need to obtain consumer consent before using certain user data for advertising and internal marketing. They would be required to get consent for details like precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, Web browsing history, app usage history and communication content.

For less sensitive information such as email addresses or service tiers, consumers would be able to opt out.

Republican commissioners including Pai, said in October the rules unfairly give websites the ability to harvest more data than service providers and dominate digital advertising.

Pai said in October the FCC “adopted one-sided rules that will cement edge providers’ dominance in the online advertising market.” Google and Facebook dominate that market and account for about two-thirds of all revenue.

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who authored the privacy rules, told Reuters on Friday that they are necessary because consumers have few options when it comes to broadband providers. “The fact of the matter is it’s the consumer’s information,” he said. “It’s not the network’s information.”

Berin Szóka, president of TechFreedom, said Pai’s decision was a good move because “because the real question isn’t a policy question but a legal one: does the FCC even have authority to regulate broadband privacy?”

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Anjali Athavaley in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and Grant McCool)

Leave a Reply