Ever since Congress repealed the Federal Communication Commission’s broadband privacy rules, consumers have expressed outrage over their lack of privacy protections when accessing broadband networks. The FCC’s rules prevented broadband providers from sharing sensitive customer information without permission. Repealing these privacy rules left a significant gap in consumer protection in the internet ecosystem.
Last night, President Trump quietly signed away our broadband privacy protections. The rules, passed by the Federal Communications Commission in October 2016, were years in the making, but only took a month for Congress and President Trump to dismantle. This unprecedented situation merits a further review.
Imagine you’re facing an emergency and you need a paramedic, fireman, or police officer, but don’t have a cellular phone available to call 9-1-1, or you do call 9-1-1 but don’t know or cannot communicate your location, and dispatcher cannot trace it. For many Americans this is a very frightening reality. Many low-income people cannot afford cell phones, and are unable to contact emergency services without a landline connection.
Members of Congress adding unnecessary policy language or amendments, known as “riders,” to government appropriations bills is nothing new; it is a well-known tactic for getting controversial policies passed. Appropriations bills provide funding to government agencies, so they must be passed by Congress in order to keep everything moving. Some members of Congress use this as a loophole to try to sneak in language or amendments that will hurt existing policies and agencies.
Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its fiscal year (FY) 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. The bill includes appropriations for the Federal Communications Commission of approximately $341 million, below the President’s requested amount, and also requires the FCC to complete an impact study of its set-top box proposal before voting to increase video device competition for consumers.