On April 17, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing on paid prioritization -- an issue that is central to the net neutrality debate. While most internet service providers (ISPs) have claimed that they have no plans to block or degrade traffic once the Federal Communications Commission's 2017 net neutrality repeal Order goes into effect (exactly when that will be remains TBD), commitments (or lack thereof) not to engage in paid prioritization have remained a moving target. These commitments are shifting with the political winds, and ISPs are including plenty of wiggle room to allow them to argue they haven’t misled consumers if they eventually choose to offer prioritization deals.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. By now we know the basic facts: Aleksandr Kogan, purporting to be a researcher, developed an authorized Facebook application. As was Facebook’s practice at the time, when users connected the app to their Facebook accounts, the app scooped up not only the users’ personal information, but also their friends’ personal information. In this manner, Dr. Kogan was able to amass information about 50 million Facebook users – even though only 270,000 individuals used the app. Dr. Kogan then, exceeding his authorized use of the data, funneled that information to Cambridge Analytica, a firm that purported to engage in “psychographics” to influence voters on behalf of the Trump campaign.
Last week, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 4986 -- a bill that, among other things, reauthorizes the Federal Communications Commission and approves the agency’s funding for fiscal years 2019 and 2020. House passage followed an announcement that the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Energy & Commerce Committee had reached an agreement to support the legislation -- framing the bill as reauthorizing the FCC and spurring deployment of 5G wireless networks across the nation.
Today, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced a bill in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality last week. The bill would prevent Internet Service Providers from blocking and throttling online content, but would still allow for paid prioritization of content, and would remove almost all other FCC consumer protection authority over broadband networks.