FCC Should Align Privacy Regulation with FTC or Risk Stunting Innovation, ITIF Testifies Before House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee

June 14, 2016

WASHINGTON—Doug Brake, telecommunications policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a leading tech policy think tank, today testified that Congress should direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to abandon its flawed broadband privacy proposal and instead align its approach with the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) well established framework, which provides a better balance of privacy concerns and innovation.

In testimony before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Brake argued, “The FCC’s proposed privacy regime does a remarkably poor job of balancing innovation and productivity with other policy interests. While there is certainly a role for government in protecting consumer privacy, the oversight and enforcement provided by the FTC, along with existing industry practices and commitments, provides a superior framework for balancing privacy, innovation, and overall consumer welfare. Congress should direct the FCC to change course.”

In his testimony, Brake explained that Internet Service Providers do not have the unique or comprehensive access to consumer data that would justify sector-specific regulation. Furthermore, all major broadband providers already offer consumers the ability to opt-out of existing targeted advertising programs.

Instead of the FCC focusing on hypothetical harms in a way that would effectively shut off innovative practices that would benefit the majority of broadband consumers, Brake suggested the FTC’s current practice of allowing flexibility and stepping in where problems develop provides a better balance of privacy and innovation.

Brake argued that if privacy policies that would impact a substantial portion of the Internet economy are developed, it should be done at the national level by Congress, not by twisting a statute that was clearly developed for a different time to suit its current purposes, as the FCC is doing.

“Some of the policy goals animating the FCC’s proposal are legitimate, but are simply given undue weight,” said Brake. “There is certainly an interest in ensuring customers have transparent notice and choice over how their information is used and collected when navigating the Internet ecosystem, but broadband consumers already have this choice and the FTC framework better balances competition, innovation, and consumer protection. Congress should direct the FCC to correct course, and adopt rules in line with the existing FTC framework.”

Download testimony.

Download ITIF’s FCC filing.

Download ITIF’s report, “Broadband Privacy: The Folly of Sector-Specific Rules.”