Community activists and government officials are firing back at the FCC over recent rule changes and an attempt by Chairman Ajit Pai to roll back the 2015 Open Internet Order.
How so? To start, the city of Seattle has passed an ordinance requiring that fixed-line Internet service providers in the region gain opt-in consent from customers before sharing their web browsing data. The only exceptions to the rule are if that information is necessary to provide a service that the customer has requested, or if a court or government entity has ordered disclosure.
The Seattle rule, which TechCrunch was the first to report, mimics a broadband privacy order passed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler last year. However, that nationwide ruling was overturned in March by Congress in keeping with the new Republican FCC agenda of light-touch regulation under Chairman Pai. (See Welcome to the Wild West of Privacy and About That Broadband Privacy Vote.)
Opponents of the broadband privacy measure argue that it unfairly disadvantages ISPs against the likes of Facebook and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), which can collect web browsing data -- without explicit user permission -- for advertising use. But proponents, including Seattle CTO Michael Mattmiller, say that ISPs should be treated differently because they have a different relationship with consumers. The city of Seattle gains its authority to mandate privacy requirements through the franchising agreements it's signed with local service providers. If other cities choose to follow the same path, they'll be able to do so as long as there are similar franchise agreements in place.
But the fight over FCC reversals doesn't stop there. Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the agency with a dozen fellow senators yesterday calling on Pai to preserve the Open Internet Order. In the letter, the senators ardently oppose Pai's preferred approach to net neutrality that calls for putting voluntary guidelines in place to govern ISP actions. The letter states that: "Voluntary guidelines do not provide the certainty needed to entrepreneurs, innovators, and anyone else with an idea that they can access potential viewers and customers, and still leaves the essential internet gatekeeper function in the hands of the few and powerful."
Given Democrats' lack of power at all levels of government, the letter is likely to have little official impact, but it could serve to rally consumer troops who turned out in force to support the idea of net neutrality when the Open Internet Order was under consideration in 2014 and 2015. The FCC is expected to approve a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) next week to look at next steps for repealing the order, although legally speaking, the issue will likely have to be resolved in Congress. (See Net Neutrality, Here We Go Again.)
And speaking of rallying the troops, comedian John Oliver once again took up the mantle of net neutrality protector in a segment over the weekend by calling on his audience to file comments with the FCC against a repeal of the Open Internet Order. More than 4 million comments weighed down the FCC website after Oliver raised the subject back in 2014, and he's hoping to provoke similar outrage and action now in 2017.
In a bizarre twist, the FCC announced that its comment system was overloaded after the Oliver rant, but the agency cited the cause as "multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDos)." The timing is suspect given that the attack reportedly occurred just after Oliver's segment aired. However, the FCC has explicitly stated that the server overload was not a result of anyone trying to file actual comments.
The current comment count -- both positive and negative -- regarding the FCC's NPRM stands at 555,972 in the last 30 days.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading