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FCC Releases National Broadband Plan, Promotes Consumer Control Over Personal Information

16 March 2010

The Federal Communications Commission released its long-awaited National Broadband Plan today, providing an aggressive roadmap for advancing affordable broadband deployment and adoption; stimulating economic growth; and boosting the nation's capabilities in education, healthcare, homeland security, and other areas.  The Plan also appears to confirm that the FCC is looking to take an expanded role in privacy-related consumer protection issues.

In the Plan, the FCC discusses a number of broadband privacy and data security issues focused on the protection of and consumer control over personal information.  For example, the FCC states 

 

[t]he collection, aggregation and analysis of personal information are common threads among, and enablers of, many application-related innovations...

 

and the Plan notes the value of services such as customized suggestions for movie rentals or books and more targeted and relevant advertising.  It cautions, however

 

many users are increasingly concerned about their lack of control over sensitive personal data.

 

The FCC then remarks:  

 

Innovation will suffer if a lack of trust exists between users and the entities with which they interact over the Internet.  Policies therefore must reflect consumers’ desire to protect sensitive data and to control dissemination and use of what has become essentially their “digital identity.”  Ensuring customer control of personal data and digital profiles can help address privacy concerns and foster innovation.

The FCC also makes several broadband privacy and data security recommendations in the Plan, including:

  • Encouraging Congress and the Federal Trade Commission (as well as the FCC) to clarify the relationship between users and their online profiles, including disclosure and consent requirements and data collection, sharing, storage, safeguarding, and accountability responsibilities;

  • Suggesting that Congress consider helping spur the development of trusted "identity providers" that can help consumers maximize the privacy and security of their data;

  • Having the FTC and FCC jointly develop principles to require that customers provide informed consent before broadband service providers share certain information with third parties (including account and usage information and other personally identifiable information); and

  • Prompting the federal government to put additional resources into combating identity theft and fraud and enhancing consumer online security.

In addition, the Plan includes several privacy and data security recommendations in the smart grid and cybersecurity areas, including a recommendation that states require utilities to "provide consumers access to, and control of, their own digital energy information, including real-time information from smart meters and historical consumption, price and bill data over the Internet."  If states fail to do so within 18 months, the Plan recommends that Congress consider national legislation.

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