FCC's Wheeler Aims to Wrap Business Data and Privacy Rules

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By Kyle Daly

Sept. 14 — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler intends to finalize new rules for business broadband and broadband provider privacy requirements in 2016, he said in testimony prepared for a Sept. 15 Senate hearing.

Wheeler's goal is to issue rules on business data services “no later than the end of this year,” he said in prepared testimony for a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee oversight hearing. Telecom and cable companies sell the services to banks, retailers, government and corporate users, schools and hospitals that need to move data, as well as to other service providers to connect cell sites to backbone networks.

Wheeler also said he is “confident” the FCC will arrive at final broadband privacy rules later this year. Despite his optimistic forecast, Wheeler faces pushback on both proposals from Republican legislators, telecom and cable service providers and trade groups.

Wheeler is set to appear at the hearing along with the other four FCC commissioners.

Price Caps Create Controversy

Wheeler wants to set price caps on business data service offerings but critics argue the agency's proposal would chill investment in next-generation networks. Opponents including AT&T Inc. have said the business broadband market is sufficiently competitive and that companies subjected to price regulation will spend less on network expansion and upgrades (2016 TLN 9, 9/1/16). Companies that call for similar regulations and those that explicitly back Wheeler's proposal say the business data market is dominated by monopolies or duopolies in most parts of the country and would benefit from regulations that encourage more competition.

Privacy Tug of War

Wheeler's plan to craft new, more stringent rules governing how broadband providers protect and use subscribers' data has been criticized for appropriating the Federal Trade Commission's regulatory authority over consumer privacy. Detractors say the move could create consumer confusion and unnecessary regulatory burdens for internet service providers. Wheeler has argued that his plan would bring broadband privacy rules in line with those the FCC has for years used for traditional phone service providers (2016 TLN 16, 6/1/16).

A Packed Hearing

The Commerce Committee's Republican leadership intends to discuss the privacy and business data proposals during the hearing, along with other hot-button issues including the FCC's plan to open the pay-TV set-top box market to third parties and the ongoing spectrum incentive auction that will deliver broadcast spectrum to wireless carriers, according to a staff memo. The memo also said the hearing may address the question t of reauthorizing the FCC, a pet issue for panel Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.).

The 25 years since Congress last reauthorized the FCC represents longest expired fiscal authorization of any federal entity under Commerce Committee jurisdiction, according to the staff memo. The panel in April advanced an FCC reauthorization bill (S. 2644) that was the result of bipartisan compromise and included provisions that would require the FCC to create new rules on cramming, the practice of adding unauthorized charges to consumers' phone bills, and make efforts to promote broadband internet access for veterans .

In addition to addressing the need for new and modified rules, the remarks prepared by Wheeler and his fellow commissioners highlight key policy priorities. Continuing to lay the groundwork for the 5G era of next-generation wireless networks was a common theme for Wheeler and Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly, while O'Rielly also urged process reform within the agency. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, whose reconfirmation to the commission has been held up for months (2016 TLN 13, 4/5/16), focused her remarks on efforts to update and improve 911 services nationwide.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Daly in Washington at kdaly@bna.com

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

For More Information

Wheeler's prepared testimony is available at: http://src.bna.com/iAw.

Pai's prepared testimony is available at: http://src.bna.com/iAv.

O'Rielly's prepared testimony is available at: http://src.bna.com/iAu.

Rosenworcel's prepared testimony is available at: http://src.bna.com/iAx.

The committee staff memo on the hearing is available at: http://src.bna.com/iAt.

Text of S. 2644, as introduced, is available at: http://src.bna.com/iA1.

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