FCC Expected to Move on Broadband Privacy Rules in March

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By Lydia Beyoud

Feb. 26 — The Federal Communications Commission is expected to start a rulemaking process for broadband Internet service provider privacy rules at its March 31 open meeting, multiple telecommunications industry sources told Bloomberg BNA on background.

A notice of proposed rulemaking is likely to be on the meeting agenda, according to the industry sources. It is expected to lay out how the agency intends to apply Section 222 of the Communications Act of 1934 to ISPs that were reclassified under Title II of the Act with the commission's Open Internet order in 2015. That section of the law was originally written to protect customer proprietary network information (CPNI), such as billing information, collected by telephone carriers.

When the FCC voted on the Open Internet order, it determined the section would apply to broadband providers, but said it would have to be adapted for the Internet ecosystem. That has led to months of uncertainty for broadband providers who were unsure just how the agency intended to write new privacy rules.

In meetings with FCC staff, questions have shifted from the abstract to more practical ones related to statutory authority, and what specific restrictions to put in place on how CPNI data is used or monetized, Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge, told Bloomberg BNA.

Public interest groups have been pushing the FCC to put in place strict privacy rules that would prohibit the use of common practices such as deep packet inspection (DPI) of data flowing across networks, except for certain cases including law enforcement and reasonable network management practices.

Consumer groups have also taken aim at the use of data trackers that follow an Internet user's online activity, such as the infamous “supercookies” used by Verizon Wireless. Such practices are almost certain to be addressed in the proposed rules .

Broadband providers have publicly opposed any provisions that might restrict how collected data can be used or monetized. Seven trade groups wrote to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Feb. 11 to ask the FCC to follow the Federal Trade Commission's lighter touch privacy regime for ISPs.

“We believe it is important to maintain a consistent privacy framework for the Internet. Such an approach will protect consumers and avoid entity-based regulation that would create consumer confusion and stifle innovation,” the trade groups said.

There is still a possibility that the agency could postpone action on the NPRM until after the March meeting, Feld said. Other telecom industry sources, also speaking on background, told Bloomberg BNA that timing on the NPRM was either “fluid” or more likely to be on the April 28 meeting agenda.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine in Washington at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the associations letter is at http://src.bna.com/cVE.