Congressional Repeal Of FCC ISP Privacy Rules Removes Burden But Stirs Controversy

Posted: April 18, 2017

Congress recently rolled back FCC privacy rules enacted to prevent internet service providers from sharing user data, a move highlighting privacy and the potential for internet service providers to monetize that data.

The reversed ruling was relatively new, pushed through by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2016 and supported by the President Obama administration. Under that rule, ISPs would have needed user permission to sell a customer’s data.

ISPs, however, contended that the ruling provided an unfair advantage to companies such as Google and Facebook, which leverage user data to generate profits. The argument proved successful with the 2017 Congress, which voted along party lines for a repeal signed by President Trump.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Franklin, Tennessee, who authored the bill to repeal, told the Washington Post that “(Consumer privacy) will be enhanced by removing the uncertainty and confusion these rules will create.”

Following the repeal, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association Chief Executive Officer  Shirley Bloomfield said, “NTCA has consistently championed consumer-centric principles of notice, choice and security in the debates over how best to protect consumer data online. At the same time, NTCA expressed concern about rules that would impose substantial new burdens and treat Internet Service Providers differently than other firms with access to that data.”

She also emphasized the organization’s willingness to work with stakeholders to ensure consistent, well-designed measures that protect, rather than confuse or mislead, consumers about their privacy expectations. NTCA also drafted an informational piece to explain the changes to customers. That document is available for download here.

After the policy change, several ISPs vowed they would not take advantage of user data, but consumer advocates continue calls of caution. The debate will likely continue:

The Washington Post: What to expect now that Internet providers can collect and sell your Web browser history
The The Wall Street Journal: Settling a Bureaucratic Turf War in Online Privacy Rules
AZ Central: ‘A good thing’: Sen. Jeff Flake defends blocking internet privacy rule
The Verge: Losing the ISP privacy fight is only the beginning