Broadband rules axed by Congress, headed to Trump
Congress voted to repeal broadband privacy rules passed late in the Obama Administration by the FCC.
The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to overturn broadband privacy rules established five months ago by the Federal Communications Commission.
After the 215-205 vote, a measure repealing the rules passed by the FCC on Oct. 27 will go to President Trump, who is expected to approve the measure.
The FCC, then chaired by Democrat Tom Wheeler, passed those rules to require Internet Service Providers to ask customers' permission to collect, use and sell personal information.
But ISPs, free market supporters – and Republicans – say that the current case-by-case enforcement regimen is better than the uneven regulatory created by the FCC's move, enacted just days before Trump's election. The House's vote follows an earlier vote by the Senate last week to overturn the rules under the Congressional Review Act.
"I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected though a consistent and comprehensive framework," said current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, in a statement after the vote. "In my view, the best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area."
The FTC has regulatory authority to protect consumers in the face of unfair and deceptive business practices. Beyond these newly-passed rules, the FCC also has the authority to take action should broadband providers -- or other telecom companies -- commit unjust or unreasonable business practices.
But the FCC's previous chairman, Democrat Tom Wheeler, oversaw the rules' crafting to strengthen consumer online data protections. Under the rules, ISPs must obtain “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information. Such data must be reasonably secured and, should a breach occur, quick notifications were required.
Since Trump has taken office, Republicans have sought to repeal many Obama-supported measures as a way to free business from what they say is burdensome regulations. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who sponsored the measure in the House, called the FCC's privacy rules "unnecessary and another example of big government overreach," during debate on the floor Tuesday.
Democrats defended the measure as important to consumers. "The Republicans want this information to be sold without your permission, the websites you visit, the apps you use, your search history, the content of your emails, your health and financial data," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The measure, she said, is "about increasing profits at the expense of the privacy of the American people."
Even if Trump, as expected, opts to overturn the rules, the broadband privacy issue is far from finished. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation directing the FCC to craft new "strong broadband rules."
Before Tuesday's vote, many of the public interest groups that supported the passage of Net neutrality rules in 2015 began contacting legislators and encouraging voters to support the rules. "The public backlash following the party-line vote in the Senate clearly had an impact, as 15 Republicans broke ranks to vote against the measure," said Evan Greer, campaign director for Net freedom group Fight for the Future. The group plans to billboards with names of all congressmen who voted to overturn the privacy rules.
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