Blackburn Argues for ‘One Regulator with One Set of Rules’ for Internet Privacy

WASHINGTON – Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has introduced legislation similar to the Federal Communications Commission rules the Trump administration repealed earlier this year, which required companies like Verizon and Comcast to gain consumer consent when collecting and selling sensitive data. With Republicans leading the way, Congress in March voted to remove the FCC internet privacy rules, with Trump signing the repeal into law. Blackburn’s legislation differs from the FCC regulations in that it would not only apply to telecommunications giants but also internet companies like Facebook and Google, which try to collect and sell sensitive information such as Social Security numbers and data about finances, health and location. Blackburn’s legislation would return authority over internet privacy from the FCC to the Federal Trade Commission.

The Obama administration shifted responsibility from the FTC to the FCC in 2015, with adoption of the Open Internet Order. That order included the FCC’s controversial net neutrality rule, which prohibits ISPs from throttling website data traffic for financial gain.

“I knew we didn’t need two regulators with two sets of rules,” Blackburn said Tuesday at the Hudson Institute. “So you don’t need the FTC and the FCC, and I think that industry and consumers don’t want this to be a ping-pong issue that gets changed every time you have a change of administration, so it’s time for Congress to take some action on this, and my bill calls for one regulator with one set of rules for the entire ecosystem.”

Blackburn said she hopes to gain bipartisan support for the bill, officially known as the Balancing the Rights of Web Surfers Equally and Responsibly Act. In a statement on the bill’s introduction, Blackburn said that the FCC’s privacy rules had two distinct problems: confusion related to having two privacy regulators, and a lack of attention on internet companies outside ISPs, which collect as much (if not more) data as ISPs. Blackburn said that the government should not be picking winners and losers when deciding privacy guidelines for Americans. The new bill, she said, brings all internet entities under the same rules.

Led by Republican Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC is currently in the process of scrapping its net neutrality rules. Pai has expressed plans to return authority back to the FTC and regulations that governed the industry prior to Obama’s Open Internet Order. Blackburn, during her appearance at the Hudson Institute, also discussed the prospect of expanding internet broadband to rural areas. The congresswoman represents a heavily rural district in Tennessee made up of 19 counties. She called broadband the principal infrastructure issue of the 21st century, and described it as key to a functioning society.

Blackburn criticized Obama’s broadband expansion initiatives, the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) and Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP), which helped set in motion $7.2 billion in grants and loans for expansion. The congresswoman said that onerous paperwork resulted in entities and organizations not fully utilizing the funds. She said the Trump administration has a great opportunity with the pending infrastructure bill.

Existing federal programs allow for about $10 billion in grants and loans for broadband expansion to schools and rural areas annually.

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