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FCC to Vote on Revised Broadband Privacy Regulations

October 6, 2016, 5:42 PM UTC

The Federal Communications Commission will vote on Oct. 27 on a revised proposal for rules to safeguard privacy of broadband users.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s initial proposal came under harsh criticism from Internet service providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast, because it subjected them to more stringent rules than websites like Facebook, Twitter or Alphabet’s Google, which are overseen by Federal Trade Commission rules.

Providers had especially objected to sweeping “opt in” requirements under the initial proposal for using nearly all consumer data. Under the new proposal, providers must only get “opt in” or affirmative consent for sensitive data like health, finances, web browsing history, child data, and Social Security numbers.

But it allows other data to be used with “opt out” or implied consent for marketing purposes.

FCC officials said the new rules are more in line with FTC privacy rules for websites.

“For decades the FCC has required telephone companies to protect the information associated with a phone call,” Wheeler said in a blog post. “Similar rules don’t exist for broadband service today. That’s a gap that must be closed.”

Several consumer groups including the Consumer Federation of America backed the revised proposal, as did Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.

The FCC has authority to set broadband privacy rules after it reclassified broadband providers last year as part of new net neutrality regulations. A federal appeals court upheld that decision in June.

Wheeler is working to complete an aggressive agenda this year, including the privacy proposal, as well as rules to reform the $40 billion market for business data services, known as special access lines, and to allow consumers to ditch pay TV set top boxes.

A person briefed on the matter said Wheeler was circulating a revised proposal to reform the special access lines, but has not decided whether to bring it up for a vote on Oct. 27.

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In September, the FCC said it would delay a final vote on a landmark reform of the $20 billion television set-top box market, which could reduce bills for tens of millions of subscribers.

Negotiations among the commissioners were continuing after the FCC’s three Democrats in a joint statement last week expressed support for letting consumers drop set-top boxes, which route cable and broadcasting to televisions. They said they were “working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues.”