FCC Chairman Wheeler Follows Consumer Watchdog’s Call, Includes Key Consumer And Privacy Protections In Plan For Open Internet And Regulation Like Public Utility

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SANTA MONICA, CA – Answering Consumer Watchdog’s call, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is invoking key sections of the Communications Act that will provide the basis for vital consumer and privacy protections in his plan to reclassify broadband service and regulate the providers like public utilities.

“Section 222 of the Act will be the basis for meaningful privacy protection for consumers when they are online,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy project director. “Before reclassification the Federal Trade Commission had jurisdiction and could only act on privacy violations if a company’s practices were unfair and deceptive.  Now the FCC will be able set enforceable rules and ensure meaningful privacy protection.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s January letter to the FCC calling for the inclusion of privacy and other consumer protections here:

Congress requires the FCC to refrain from enforcing – commonly called forbearing from – provisions of the Act that are not in the public interest. Some observers speculated that Wheeler would invoke only those sections of the Act necessary to ensure the concept of net neutrality – that all data is treated equally without “fast lanes” for a higher price.  And while Wheeler’s plan does forebear on a number of areas no longer relevant and on rate regulation, the order – if passed as expected by the Commission at its Feb. 26 meeting – specifically:

— Applies “core” provisions of Title II: Sections 201 and 202 (e.g., no  “unjust and unreasonable practices.”

— Allows investigation of consumer complaints under section 208 and related enforcement provisions specifically sections 206, 207, 209, 216 and 217.

— Protects consumer privacy under Section 222.

— Ensures fair access to poles and conduits under Section 224, which would boost the deployment of new broadband networks.

— Protects people with disabilities under Sections 225 and 255.

— Bolsters universal service fund support for broadband service in the future through partial application of Section 254.

Read the FCC’s fact sheet about Chairman Wheeler’s plan here:

In its January letter to the Commission Consumer Watchdog identified 13 consumer and privacy protections sections of Title II that should be applied to broadband providers when they are reclassified.

“Sec. 222 is perhaps the most important provision from a consumer’s perspective. It was explicitly put in place so that telephone companies could not exploit their copper networks to impact people’s privacy,” wrote Simpson. “This vital protection should exist related to private information secured from digital networks. The FCC must adopt regulations to ensure that the integrity and privacy of data gathered on the broadband networks we use are maintained.”

The January letter concluded: “The important point is that these sections of Title II offer important consumer protections in such areas as privacy that are a foundation for sound communications policy.  If consumers believe that their broadband provider substantially threatens their privacy, they are less likely to use the Internet.  We urge the Commission to act accordingly and decisively so consumers’ interests are protected.”


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John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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