The official comment period for the Federal Communications Commissions’ proposed Internet Service Provider privacy rules closes on July 6, 2016, and a variety of interests have weighed in on the soundness of the Commission’s proposed course of action. While people like the New York State Attorney General support the FCC’s primary contention that broadband internet access service (BIAS) providers – also known as internet service providers (ISPs) – are the primary gatekeeper consumers face when accessing volumes of content online, others contend that the Commission’s view neglects a significant portion of the internet ecosystem.
According to reporting by John Eggerton for Multichannel News, internet industry analyst Larry Downes has identified three primary flaws with the FCC’s current broadband privacy proposal. Notably, Downes says, the current rules under consideration by the Commission rely on the “false premise” that “ISPs have ‘unique’ access to consumer information.” They apply a “double standard” by “leaving out the dominant ‘edge’ providers who are in fact the ‘gatekeepers’ of transactional information [and] unnecessarily subjects consumers to two sets of different rules and different enforcement mechanisms for information exchange. Furthermore, the proposed rules increase the “transaction costs of ‘opt in'” for “precisely the kind of information exchanges that have so far fueled the “cycle of innovation” that elsewhere the FCC praises as the source of the Internet’s phenomenal success.”
In many ways, Downes’ critique supports the view advanced by privacy and identity management consultant Debra Diener. Explaining her view in a recent op-ed for Tech Crunch, Diener said “the FCC’s narrow focus [on ISPs] fails to reflect the real-world concerns consumers have and are expressing. They want more, not less, protection for their online information as confirmed in the Pew Research Center’s January 2016 report.” Similarly, in a recent article for Forbes, Omri Ben-Shahar said “these rules do not affect all consumers alike. Some consumers win, but others stand to lose. The untold and unhappy story of these dual regulations is the identity of the losers: they are the least privileged and the least sophisticated consumers. The rules, in other words, promote the interests of a narrow elite sector that is disproportionately bandwidth hungry and also hypersensitive to privacy concerns. And they do so at the expense of those who are struggling to even gain access to internet connection.”
It is not yet clear how the FCC will frame its newest privacy rules. Based on comments received thus far, however, there is a healthy debate underway about who most benefits from these proposed rules and whose interests the Commission is truly trying to protect.