Published: Tue, February 28, 2017
USA | By Cassandra Hanson

FCC chief: AT&T-Time Warner deal won't face agency's scrutiny

This time, new US Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai is looking to get a stay on privacy rules for broadband providers that had just been passed by the agency in October. Approved under Pai's predecessor, the rules require internet providers to take a stricter stance on protecting and using customer data.

Along with citing existing FTC privacy rules, Pai has previously stated a belief that all companies in the online space should be subject to the same set of rules.

The chairman is looking to take several steps to keep the rules from going into effect. Al Franken, D-Minn., said on his Facebook page that "their letter does little to address my concerns and essentially asks American consumers to trust that the combined company won't engage in anticompetitive behavior, raise prices, violate the principles of net neutrality, or decrease access to diverse voices".

FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny said that contrary to Pai's statement, the new FCC privacy rules would conform to the rules held by the FTC.

Pai has been taking more industry-friendly stances on many issues since President Donald Trump appointed him FCC chairman. The broadband privacy rule is the only protection for internet users' sensitive information - including browsing history and location information - in the hands of ISPs. It must determine a deal is in the public interest, a broader criteria than antitrust.

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Clyburn's office was not available for comment on whether she will vote the item by March 2 or force the chairman to adopt it on delegated authority. According to the spokesman, Pai believes the privacy rules should mirror those implemented by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which oversees privacy regulations for internet companies.

On the other hand, privacy advocates have noted that ISPs are more capable of collecting data than websites and other companies, as ISPs are responsible for providing the connections to those websites and companies.

FCC privacy rules already apply to telephone service.

While FCC review of a merger involving AT&T (the nation's largest phone service provider, and second-largest pay-TV provider) and Time Warner (one of the biggest players in pay-TV content, with channels like CNN and HBO) might seem like it's destined for FCC review, AT&T has maintained that the combination of the two companies won't involve any swapping of airwave licenses, so the FCC need not involve itself. In specific cases, the FCC planned to consider the ISP's size, the technical feasibility of security measures, "the nature and scope of [an ISP's] activities", and "the sensitivity of the data it collects". Wheeler's privacy order changed the privacy rules and applied them to fixed and mobile broadband service in addition to phone service for the first time.

"Consumers everywhere have few choices when choosing their broadband provider - and choice for rural consumers is even more limited".

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