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FCC Chair Moves To Halt Broadband Privacy And Data Protection Rules Passed In October

Trump-appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai is moving to roll back the implementation of internet privacy rules for providers passed back in October. The move is being seen as a victory for internet providers such as AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and more.

Pai on Friday asked the FCC to halt a specific part of the rollout of said rules scheduled to take effect next week. The decision marks Pai's continuous efforts to roll back regulatory moves set by his predecessor Tom Wheeler.

Privacy Rules Put On Hold

The rules approved previously by the FCC, passed via a 3-2 vote, aimed to protect sensitive private data from ISPs. Pai, however, argues that every company included in the online space should "be subject to the same rules, and the federal government should not favor one set of companies over another," in Mark Wigfield's own words, Reuters reports. Wigfield is a spokesman for the FCC.

By March 2, Pai plans to halt implementation of the privacy rules. While other elements of the rules are currently being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, analysts said Friday that a temporary stay is the initial step toward blocking them long-term.

The privacy rules — a part of which is being halted — would compel internet service providers to stricter conditions than those imposed on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google. ISPs would be required to acquire consent from consumers before they could implement precise user-inputted geographical locations, and other information related to finance, health, and browsing history, which can be used for advertising and marketing purposes.

A Win For Telecom Companies

Telecom associations and companies, including those mentioned above, has filed a petition requesting the FCC to halt broader privacy, rules, NPR reports. They argue that FCC's privacy rules put them in unequal footing with data-collecting internet companies such as Google or Netflix, which are only overseen by the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC.

By contrast, the FTC's rules are less strict than those of the FCC's, and they are, instead of preemptive regulations, implemented via investigations and enforcement. Republican commissioners, including Pai, cried corporate favoritism when the FCC passed the privacy rules.

Several Democrats in the U.S. Congress are criticizing the halt. Wheeler on Friday said that the privacy rules are a necessity because consumers have scant options when it comes to ISPs. He argues that the information in question is the consumer's — not the network's. ISPs might collect said data and shop it to brokers for advertising.

The move seeks a vote of Pai's fellow commissioners, a Republican and a Democrat. Even so, FCC can pause the data security element of the privacy rules without the vote, at least until the full FCC vote on the pending petitions to rethink the broader privacy rules is cast.

Net Neutrality Crumbles

The halt comes as the FCC travels a downward slope seemingly away from the promise of net neutrality, which has been a hotly contested subject of late. The FCC on Feb. 23 voted 2-1 along party lines to suspend net neutrality transparency requirements for ISPs with less than 250,000 subscribers. With that in place, broadband providers are no longer required to share crucial information about their services, including price, other fees, data caps, and more.

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