Mobile industry questions FCC's jurisdiction over proposed privacy rules, warns of market 'uncertainty'

As expected, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed new rules for fixed-line and mobile broadband providers to protect users' data. And, as expected, wireless carriers didn't exactly rush to embrace his ideas.

FCC officials said the Commission will vote on a proposal this month to consider regulations that would require ISPs to provide more transparency regarding what kind of data they glean from consumers, who they share it with and how it is used. The rules would also require ISPs to get consumers to opt in to some data programs, and would strengthen rules regarding data breaches.

"Today, I'm proposing to my colleagues that we empower consumers to ensure they have control over how their information is used by their Internet Service Provider," Wheeler wrote on The Huffington Post. "Every broadband consumer should have the right to know what information is being collected and how it is used. Every broadband consumer should have the right to choose how their information bits should be used and shared. And every consumer should be confident that their information is being securely protected."

The FCC will vote on the proposed rules during its March 31 meeting. If approved, a public comment period will follow to discuss "additional or alternative" rules before a final vote.

And the Commission made clear that any new rule would apply to mobile carriers just as they do to fixed-line broadband providers.

"The notion would be a single set of rules to govern both fixed and mobile ISPs," said one senior FCC official. "There are questions about mobile-specific considerations, but the notion would be a uniform set of rules."

The wireless industry's response to Wheeler's proposal was predictably tepid. CTIA questioned whether the issue even fell within the Commission's purview, saying "If the FCC does have jurisdiction over broadband privacy, any FCC rules must be consistent with the successful FTC approach." Mobile Future, whose members include AT&T, Verizon and Qualcomm, echoed those sentiments: "With the FCC's role to regulate in this area far from certain, this proceeding adds another layer of uncertainty to America's mobile sector."

Meanwhile, major U.S. carriers kept mum. Verizon, AT&T and Sprint didn't respond to requests for comment from FierceWireless, and T-Mobile pointed to CTIA's statement.

Wheeler's proposal comes as carriers look to ramp up advertising revenues as growth of the U.S. smartphone market slows. Verizon CFO Fran Shammo recently outlined that carrier's plans to generate revenues from mobile video ads, for instance, and AT&T said it will support ad-based content as part of its upcoming DirecTV-branded video service.

For more:
- see this FierceCable article on the cable industry's response to the proposed rules
- see Tom Wheeler's statement on The Huffington Post

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