On March 16, 2010, after a 13-month study, the Federal Communications Commission released to the public and Congress "Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan," containing its policy recommendations for achieving national goals identified by Congress in 2009 legislation, including ensuring that every American has "access to broadband capability."
Among a host of policy recommendations in various areas, the National Broadband Plan includes a number of recommendations focused on online end-user privacy. The Plan first acknowledges the growth in the applications and content available over broadband networks, and that the collection, aggregation and analysis of personal information are common threads among, and enablers of, many application-related innovations. While data collection has enabled businesses to provide increasingly valuable services to end-users, the Plan also recognizes that many users are increasingly concerned about their lack of control over sensitive personal data, and hypothesizes that innovation will suffer if a lack of trust exists between users and the entities with which they interact over the Internet. In that regard, the Plan recommends a number of policies to better reflect consumers’ desire to protect sensitive data and to control dissemination and use of what has become essentially their “digital identity.”
While not addressing the details of how the legal landscape should be reformed, the Plan concludes that revising the current Privacy Act to give consumers more control over their personal data and more confidence in the security of their personal data can improve the broadband ecosystem. “Updating the Act for the 21st century reality of digital interaction and seamless content sharing could drive more Americans online, increase their utilization of the Internet and help American businesses and organizations develop deeper and more trusted relationships with their customers and clients.”
Privacy and Anonymity
The Plan suggests several policy recommendations aimed at clarifying the existing patchwork of potentially confusing privacy regulations:
Identity Theft and Fraud
The Plan states that with increases in electronic communications and online commerce, and the aggregation of information in databases, identity theft has become a growing concern. Consumer risks like fraud and identity theft create a disincentive for individuals to engage in online transactions, increase the costs of doing business online and create law enforcement challenges. As such, it offers several recommendations largely aimed at strengthening existing federal programs:
Consumer Online Security
While the Plan recognizes that a number of various providers have an incentive to protect consumer online security, it finds that there remains a critical need for more consumer education on what threats they face, how to protect their connections and where to turn in case of emergency:
There is a growing consensus that children need to be taught the critical skills necessary to succeed in an online environment. The Plan recommends strengthened federal oversight on this issue:
Digital Goods and Services Taxation
The Plan recognizing that state and local governments pursue varying approaches to raising tax revenues, and that such a patchwork hinders new investment and business models. As such, the Commission proposes the investigation into a national framework for digital goods and services taxation to help reduce uncertainty and remove one barrier to online entrepreneurship and investment:
This is one of a series of reports by Bingham’s Telecom, Media, and Technology practice group focusing on specific aspects of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. If you would like to receive our reports on other topics, or to consult with us about how the Plan and its implementing proceedings may affect your business, please contact:
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This article was originally published by Bingham McCutchen LLP.