FCC Urged To Impose Privacy Rules On Broadband Providers

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Advocacy group Consumer Watchdog is telling the Federal Communications Commission that new broadband regulations should include privacy obligations.

"If consumers believe that their broadband provider substantially threatens their privacy, they are less likely to use the Internet,” the group says in a filing submitted to the FCC today.

The group says that the FCC should reclassify broadband service as a utility, and also specify that broadband providers must follow the same privacy rules as companies that offer telephone service. "Those regulations, which restrict telecoms from disclosing information about people's phone calls, were “explicitly put in place so that telephone companies could not exploit their copper networks to impact people’s privacy,” Consumer Watchdog argues in its filing.

“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 group adds.

The advocacy group adds that Verizon Wireless's decision to insert a header into mobile traffic shows why privacy rules are needed. Earlier this month, Stanford's Jonathan Mayer reported that the ad company Turn uses Verizon's header to collect data and send targeted ads to mobile users who delete their cookies.

Turn subsequently said it would stop using Verizon's header for ad-targeting purposes. Still, Verizon's move “underscores the need for the Federal Communications Commission to maintain privacy and consumer protections as it reclassifies broadband companies such as Verizon as common carriers in order to protect ‘net neutrality,” Consumer Watchdog said in a statement today.

The FCC is expected to vote next month on whether to declare broadband a utility service. Many net neutrality supporters — including President Obama — are urging the FCC to reclassify broadband. They argue that doing so will enable the agency to pass rules prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or degrading traffic, as well as from charging content companies higher fees for faster delivery of their material.

But even if the FCC reclassifies broadband as a telecommunications service, the agency is expected to “forbear” from enforcing many of the rules that apply to telephone companies.

Some net neutrality proponents have urged that the FCC should take a “light touch” approach and refrain from enforcing any rules that don't relate directly to common-carrier principles.

But Consumer Watchdog says that approach “would be a serious error because it would leave the Commission no ability to offer regulations key to protecting consumers and furthering U.S. communications policy in other important areas.”

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