Wow, they did it, they really did it! The F.C.C. revised its initial rule offering about net neutrality and fast lanes to change the Internet categorization from “information service” to “telecommunications” and brought the entire mobile phone market also into that umbrella. That process was a true demonstration of democracy in action as the shift responded to the over four million comments to the original proposal and a strongly worded intention by President Obama last November.
Here is what we all hope to see as a result of this new categorization: resources to build out broadband, improve disability services and create greater digital and information literacies. What we hope not to see is too heavy a governmental hand in regulating the Internet in areas that would stifle innovation. What we are sure to see, unfortunately, is the telecoms contesting the authority of the F.C.C. to have made this move through litigation. And it is possible, although not probable, that a few members of Congress might try to kick up dust in the form of legislation designed to curb the existing F.C.C. authority. Some extremist constituents might be happy to have that dust blowing around but, because this action has such widely ranging support across the political spectrum, it is doubtful that the Republican leadership will do anything too serious to get in the F.C.C.’s way.
What we should be eager to learn more about is how the F.C.C. will deliver on the more vague references to enhancing consumer privacy. There is a healthy competition going on between the F.C.C. and the F.T.C. on the question of privacy. The truth is that people in the United States require the attention, and in some areas active engagement, of both agencies to shore up consumer privacy. Principles of transparency, meaningful notice and consent, and, when necessary, enforcement action should be an on-going conversation and collaboration between the two agencies.
When it comes to student data privacy, also a feature of the political landscape since the Obama Administration called for legislation, the Department of Education might want to get into mix. Specifically, the Department of Education might help enlighten the other two, as well as Congress, that the Family Education Rights Privacy Act applies to all institutions that maintain education records, including colleges and universities. Getting higher education into the proposed Student Data Privacy law and successfully though Congress might be the next big one. With the F.C.C. victory today as tailwinds, news laws and significant revisions of so many laws that affect the Internet — and the American people — might just be on their way!
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