SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog praised today’s vote by the Federal Communications Commission to start making rules that would protect the privacy of broadband customers.

“Internet Service Providers have unique access to their users’ data,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “Consumers shouldn’t have to chose between going online and enjoying privacy protection.”

The FCC voted 3-to-2 to start a rulemaking that would spell out privacy regulations for broadband Internet access providers under Section 222 of the Communications Act.  When the FCC reclassified broadband providers as common carriers, like telephone companies, it got authority to set privacy rules for ISPs.

Under the rulemaking approved today the FCC is seeking comment on a “proposed framework for ensuring that consumers have the tools they need to make informed choices about how their data is used and when it is shared by their broadband providers.”

The FCC’s broadband privacy proposal is apparently consistent with the data privacy rules that apply to phone providers. Consumer Watchdog said this is appropriate because ISPs, like phone providers, have access to tremendous amounts of data about their subscribers’ private communications, and subscribers have no choice but to provide that data in order to get service.

The text of the Notice of Public Rule making will be released soon.

Consumer Watchdog said the final new rules should restrict ISPs from charging more for privacy protecting plans. “Privacy should not be a luxury available only to those who can afford to pay for it,” said Simpson.

Consumer Watchdog also called on the FCC to use an opt-in framework to allow the sharing of a consumer’s data. “Opt-in means privacy is on by default as it should be,” said Simpson.  “If a consumer sees a benefit from deciding to allow their information to be shared, then they can do so.  The key is that it’s their decision.”

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