FCC to start work on broadband privacy in fall

FCC to start work on broadband privacy in fall
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The Federal Communications Commission will start the rule-making process this fall to clarify its expanded privacy authority under new Internet rules. 

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler made the revelation Friday during a speech, in which he gave a strong defense of the commission's broadband policies, from recent net neutrality rules to a pair of scuttled mergers. 

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Calling broadband Internet the "most powerful and pervasive network in the history of the planet," he said his commission would refrain from using newly implemented net neutrality regulations to micromanage it. 

"This means we’re not going to let imaginary concerns about investment incentives and utility regulation cause us to let up on policies to encourage fast, fair and open broadband," he said during a speech at the Brookings Institution. 

Critics have sued over the newly implemented regulations, which would reclassify broadband access under authority governing traditional telephone service. The authority gives the FCC greater ability to bar Internet service providers from prioritizing any piece of Internet traffic above another. 

One unsettled issue under the net neutrality order is the FCC's expanded authority to protect broadband customers' privacy — an authority that has traditionally applied to telephone companies.

The commission released an advisory in May saying it would initially judge Internet providers, like AT&T or Comcast, on whether they are "taking reasonable, good-faith steps" to comply with the general privacy provision, until tailored rules can be developed. 

"If consumers worry that they don't have sufficient privacy online, why are they going to use online?" Wheeler asked, adding it is "integral to the growth of broadband."

Another item on the commission's fall agenda is a final order on online video rules, Wheeler said Friday. He also said the first-of-its-kind auction to provide wireless companies with airwaves currently held by broadcasters will go forward in early 2016. 

He also touted the FCC's scrutiny of previously proposed mergers. Pending mergers between AT&T and DirecTV, as well as Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable, are currently before the commission.

"Our skepticism about the competitive impact of the rumored Sprint-T-Mobile merger of a year ago, and the recently abandoned Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger are evidence that we take seriously our responsibility to protect competition," Wheeler said. 

Wheeler also said the commission would "not let up" on proposals to update its Universal Service Fund programs, meant to expand service to rural areas, schools and libraries, and low-income individuals.