In February, we wrote about President Obama’s desire to strengthen online privacy laws by giving the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the power to fine violators up to $16,500 per day. Now the FTC isn’t the only federal commission looking into online privacy. On April 28, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a workshop to determine the extent to which it can or should regulate broadband privacy.

That workshop was no more than just a very small first step into examining a very large issue. It only lasted three hours; although the FCC has been exceptionally aggressive in making policy changes this year, even it can’t get anything done in such a short amount of time. The details of the meeting are available, but are technical and honestly pretty boring to anyone not engaged in the online security field. However, the workshop may have set the tone for what to expect when FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler described online privacy as “unassailable.”

Online privacy is going to become a much bigger deal than it already is as millions or billions of smart devices come online to form the Internet of Things. More devices mean more potential vulnerabilities, and more information that could be of value to data thieves.

No Paper or Digital Tiger

On April 8, the FCC announced that AT&T agreed to pay $25 million to settle the commission’s investigation into whether AT&T did enough to protect customers against data breaches in overseas call centers. There’s no reason to expect the FCC wouldn’t show the same kind of teeth in regulation of online privacy, or that FCC regulations would be weaker than those proposed for the FTC.

The FCC has been aggressive in making policy changes this year, so action on broadband privacy could come sooner, not later. It implemented net neutrality, increased funding for rural broadband and public broadband in schools and libraries, and is considering letting online video providers play by the same rules as satellite and cable companies.

Industry Still Seeks Halt to Net Neutrality

On May 1, a number of telecommunications companies and industry trade groups petitioned the FCC to halt implementation of the portion of its net neutrality ruling that reclassified Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as common carriers, meaning they had to carry all content and traffic at the same price. The petitioners included CTIA – The Wireless Association, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), and the American Cable Association (ACA). The last two filed their petition jointly.

However, while it was the common carrier reclassification that makes net neutrality possible, that wasn’t exactly what the petitions sought to prohibit: Among other arguments, the NCTA-ACA petition argued that common carrier status will subject ISPs and consumers to increased costs and state and federal taxes that are currently prohibited.

One week later, the FCC rejected those petitions, and the groups that filed them likely expected as much. However, the same groups were legally unable to request a stay in court without filing petitions with the FCC first. With that step out of the way, expect lawsuits to follow, and while the FCC is confident it will win any such challenges, it’s not a sure thing. The FCC fought and lost a court battle over net neutrality in 2010.

A More Personal Challenge

If you’re not satisfied with the current state of your Internet connection, there’s no need to file a petition or ask the courts for help. All you need to do to start improving your situation is enter your zip code below.

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