FCC issues Catch-222 advisory

23 May 2015 by Steve Blum
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I’m glad we had this chat.

In case you were still wondering, the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to bring Internet service and infrastructure under common carrier regulation was not simply about whether Comcast can block you from watching Netflix. As a statement from the FCC’s enforcement bureau emphasises, there are a lot of other rules involved, particularly those that deal with how Internet service providers use and/or safeguard information about you.

Except, no one, not even the FCC enforcement bureau, knows what those rules are. So, it’s helpfully offering to review any consumer privacy policies that ISPs have in place and maybe provide an opinion on “whether a broadband provider’s acts or practices are reasonable and whether such a provider is acting in good faith to comply with Section 222”. That’s the section of federal telecoms law that deals with “privacy of customer information”.

The new rules go into effect the middle of next month, assuming a federal appeals court doesn’t put them on hold. The enforcement bureau does know it won’t be enforcing the particular consumer privacy rules established for telephone companies, because “the commission declined to apply its existing telephone-centric rules” to Internet service. And it knows that the commission might actually tell it exactly what it’s supposed to be enforcing, because the decision “indicated that in the future it may adopt implementing rules that are tailored to broadband providers”.

Until then, it’s up to ISPs to read section 222, figure out what it means for themselves, and then ask the people at the enforcement bureau what they think. And hope they’ll agree with themselves later. Whether or not the enforcement bureau knows what it’s supposed to be enforcing, it knows it has to enforce something, otherwise, why would it be called the enforcement bureau?