Internet service providers like making money. They don’t like regulations that prevent them from any avenues that could make them money. And they will argue basically anything they can think of to help prevent those regulations from happening. Like, for example, suggesting that you, the consumer, will actively suffer harm if Comcast and others aren’t allowed to charge you extra for keeping your data to yourself.
Comcast met with the FCC last week, an opportunity (PDF) that was yet another chance for Kabletown to express its extreme displeasure at the mere idea that the FCC would try to protect consumers’ privacy through regulation.
The proposed privacy rule has been controversial since long before the commission even voted to mull it over back in March.
ISPs are adamantly opposed to the suggested opt-in regime, which would prevent them from sharing or plumbing certain parts of their customers’ data without explicit consent. They say, probably rightly, that it would cost them some money they could otherwise make — but mostly, they couch their objections in terms of “fairness” and say that rulemaking should be left up to the FTC instead.
Meetings between interested parties and FCC staff (ex parte meetings) on rulemaking procedures have summaries entered into the record, and that’s what the filing Comcast made this week is: a summary of its position.
And in that summary, among the predictable bullet points about the existing privacy regime being just fine, there was another nugget about Comcast’s thinking: “We also urged that the Commission allow business models offering discounts or other value to consumers in exchange for allowing ISPs to use their data,” Comcast wrote. “As Comcast and others have argued, the FCC has no authority to prohibit or limit these types of programs.”
Moreover, such a prohibition would harm customers by, among other things, depriving them of lower-priced offerings … A bargained-for exchange of information for service is a perfectly acceptable and widely used model throughout the U.S. economy, including the Internet ecosystem, and is consistent with decades of legal precedent and policy goals related to consumer protection and privacy.
Comcast is right that their stance is indeed, at least, consistent, because this is already something that the broadband industry is actively doing. AT&T launched its “Internet Preferences” option at the tail end of 2013, and has continued offering the same deal in other cities as its gigabit footprint expands.
And though the company objects to the framing that it charges users for privacy, it basically does. Customers who don’t let AT&T snoop on their data pay about 40% more for their monthly bill than customers who don’t.
However, to straight-up claim that consumers are harmed by limiting third parties’ access to their data… well, that’s some chutzpah. The argument runs that by decreasing the cost of broadband, more consumers can have access to it. Therefore, if selling your data makes your broadband cheaper then everyone wins, especially Comcast.
Consumers, however, don’t always see it the same way.
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