On April 28, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) hosted a public workshop on broadband consumer privacy to explore the FCC’s role in protecting the privacy of consumer broadband Internet access services. In his opening remarks, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler stated that the workshop had two goals: (1) to discuss how the FCC can ensure that section 222 of the Communications Act continues to protect consumers, and (2) to discuss how the FCC can promote a virtuous circle of innovation and investment.
The first panel discussed whether Internet service providers (“ISPs”) should be regulated differently from other businesses that have access to consumer information. An industry representative suggested that, as a result of developments in technology and the ability to purchase consumer information from third parties, ISPs do not have any greater access to consumer information than any other entity. A consumer advocate on the panel disagreed, asserting that ISPs have a unique ability to collect information about their customers due to their role as the gateway to the Internet. The second panel discussed the application of Section 222 to broadband Internet access services. Several panelists encouraged the FCC to regulate ISPs in a manner that is consistent with the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) actions in this space. In response, an FCC representative stated that the Commission has been working closely with the FTC as it determines how to regulate broadband providers with respect to consumer privacy issues. The panelists also discussed how to define what constitutes customer proprietary network information, and what, if any, restrictions should be placed on acceptable uses of this information. The Commission has not announced plans with respect to further study of the privacy practices of consumer broadband Internet access services.