FCC Adopts 'Net Neutrality' RuleNew Rule Extends Privacy Protections to Customers
The Federal Communications Commission has voted to treat high-speed broadband and mobile Internet service providers as public utilities, similar to the way telecommunications companies are regulated.
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The 3-2 vote on Feb. 26 was along party lines, with both Republican commissioners voting against the new rule, known as "net neutrality," which prevents ISPs from slowing down content streaming along their networks and from charging extra fees to assure faster speed.
"We cannot have a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind," says Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the three Democratic commissioners who approved the new order. "We cannot have gatekeepers who tell us what we can and cannot do and where we can and cannot go online. And we do not need blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization schemes that undermine the Internet as we know it."
ISPs, under FCC jurisdiction, would need to comply with the privacy provisions of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, to protect the confidential information of customers. The new rule requires ISPs to provide customers with information maintained on them upon written request.
Applying Privacy Rules
Jeremy Gillula, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says it's unclear how the FCC would apply privacy rules written for the telecommunications industry to ISPs because the 300-plus page order has yet to be published.
Eric Stallman, director at the Center for Democracy and Technology Open Internet Project, says the FCC action likely means that the Federal Trade Commission would lose enforcement authority over broadband providers in addressing privacy violations.
Stallman explains that the FCC would handle privacy violations differently than does the FTC. Unlike the FCC, the FTC does not have rulemaking powers, but it investigates privacy violations through its authority to remedy unfair and deceptive trade practices. The FCC will address privacy misdeeds if an ISP violates its rules. "It will be a different approach to privacy," he says.
Commenting on the FCC's action, Jim Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president for external and legal affairs, wrote in a blog: "We have never argued there should be no regulation in this area, simply that there should be smart regulation. What doesn't make sense, and has never made sense, is to take a regulatory framework developed for Ma Bell in the 1930s and make her great grandchildren, with technologies and options undreamed of 80 years ago, live under it."