The US House of Representatives is scheduled to vote today on whether to repeal the Federal Communications Commission's 2016 broadband privacy rules that bar Internet service providers from sharing and selling consumer data without their permission.
The Senate already voted last Thursday along party lines, 50-48, to use the Congressional Repeal Act against the rules -- which had yet to be enacted -- pushed in 2016 by then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
The repeal, promoted by Republicans, providers and the advertising industry, is widely expected to pass. The president then is predicted to sign the bill.
In October 2016, Wheeler and two other Democratic members of the five-member FCC board enacted an order designed to give broadband consumers more control over the data that ISPs are allowed to gather about usage profiles and online behavior, including alerting users about any personal data collected and breaches that may cause harm, wrote Mari Silbey in Light Reading. But controversy surrounded an edict on the type of personal data that ISPs can collect, the mandate for ISPs to get opt-in permission from users for sensitive information such as geo-location and web browsing history, and the creation of a different set of regulations for ISPs and edge providers like Yahoo, Apple, Twitter and Microsoft.
Current FCC Chair Ajit Pai and fellow Republican Commissioner Michael Rielly opposed the rules.
Here's what proponents of both sides are saying:
Led by ISPs including service providers and cable operators such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, along with their industry organizations, these businesses claim the broadband privacy rules penalize ISPs while leaving similarly influential web operations like Google untouched.
"Consumers deserve a single, clear framework for how their private online information is protected and consistent standards for how -- or if -- data can be shared by companies. The step the Senate took today will remove the conflicting set of privacy protections set in motion by the FCC rules adopted last October," wrote US Telecom following the Senate's vote last week. "These rules varied from the industry principles developed last year and established a double-standard by creating different sets of regulation for internet service providers on the one hand and the rest of the internet ecosystem on the other."
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should be responsible for ISP oversight, argue some repeal advocates.
"The FCC's rules were unwise and unnecessary," said Berin Szóka, president of TechFreedom, in a statement. "The FCC will soon return broadband privacy policing to the Federal Trade Commission, where it belongs, like all online privacy. In the meantime, enacting this CRA will simply mean that the FCC will police broadband privacy case-by-case -- just as it had done under Democratic leadership after the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order deprived the FTC of its consumer protection power over broadband by reclassifying broadband as a common carrier service."
For weeks, consumer advocacy groups have encouraged people to contact their representatives about the upcoming votes, warning consumers of the implications the repeal will have on users' privacy once ISPs can sell personal data and use multiple technological means to track users' online footprints.
ISPs deserve to be treated differently because broadband customers typically have few, if any, provider choices, said the Electronic Frontier Foundation in one of a series of blog posts against repeal. In fact, 51% of households have only one broadband provider available to them, according to the FCC's 2016 Broadband Progress Report.
"If that provider decides to sell their data, they can’t vote with their wallets and choose another ISP," EFF wrote.
The FTC has less authority than the FCC to police broadband providers, said Dallas Harris, a policy fellow with consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. "At the FCC, consumers are much more protected with strong privacy rules that give ISPs clear rules as to what's fair and what's foul," Harris wrote in a blog. "The FCC is a stronger entity with a bit more teeth to hold ISPs to the fire."
— Alison Diana, Editor, UBB2020. Follow us on Twitter @UBB2020 or @alisoncdiana.