June 22, 2016

Sen. Warren Urges Federal Communications Commission to Adopt Strong Consumer Privacy Rules for Internet Service Providers

Asks agency to pay special attention to dubious business practices that disadvantage low-income customers

Text of the letter available here (PDF)

Washington, DC - Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt strong consumer privacy rules for internet service providers, and to ban dubious business practices that single out low-income consumers for different treatment.

The FCC currently protects the privacy of traditional telephone customers, and now is considering whether to adopt proposed rules that would provide similar protections for broadband internet access service (BIAS) customers.  

In her letter today, Senator Warren wrote, "(t)he absence of clear and strong rules for BIAS providers has resulted in a host of dubious practices that endanger consumers' privacy, and I am particularly concerned about new business models that that single out low-income consumers for differential treatment with regard to their privacy and the use of their financial and other personal data."  The letter notes that one BIAS provider has started using subscriber information to run credit checks on its customers - without their knowledge or consent - to push those with low FICO scores into inferior customer service.  Another provider is charging customers a premium to avoid having their online activity data tracked and sold to other entities.  

"These practices are wrong," wrote Senator Warren.  "Privacy is not a luxury good reserved only for the wealthy."  

The FCC's proposed rules would address these practices by prohibiting providers from using customer information for purposes unrelated to service without telling their customers or getting their consent. They also would prohibit providers from making service offers contingent on a customer's surrender of privacy rights.  Additionally, the FCC has authority under the Communications Act to deem certain practices, such as "pay-for-privacy" business models, unreasonable and therefore unlawful.

"Low-income consumers already have low rates of broadband adoption, and as your work continues in this proceeding, the Commission should pay special attention to practices that would disadvantage low income consumers in particular," Senator Warren wrote.  "Just as the Commission has protected consumers' privacy when it comes to traditional telephone service, so too should the Commission protect consumers' privacy when it comes to broadband."  

Read a PDF copy of Senator Warren's letter here.