Comcast Tells The FCC It Should Be Able To Charge Broadband Users A Premium For Privacy

from the stop-trying-to-help dept

A few years back, we noted how AT&T had begun charging broadband users a significant premium if they wanted to opt out of the company’s Internet Essentials advertising program. Under that program, AT&T uses deep packet inspection to track consumer browsing behavior around the Internet — down to the second. By default, AT&T users are opted in to the program. If they want to opt out of this data collection, consumers need to not only navigate a confusing array of options, but they also need to pay $44 to $62 more per month. AT&T, in typical fashion, has actually claimed this is a “discount.”

With the FCC’s Title II and net neutrality rules upheld, the agency is now considering new basic broadband privacy protections primarily focused on two things: ensuring ISPs properly disclose what’s being collected and sold, and ensuring that ISPs provide customers with clear, working opt-out tools. But the agency is also considering banning ISPs from turning your privacy into an expensive luxury option.

Needless to say, Comcast isn’t too pleased with this decision. In a new filing with the FCC (pdf) documenting a meeting at the agency, everybody’s least liked cable company argues that stopping them from charging more for privacy would, amusingly, hurt consumers by making services more expensive:

“We also urged that the Commission allow business models offering discounts or other value to consumers in exchange for allowing ISPs to use their data. As Comcast and others have argued, the FCC has no authority to prohibit or limit these types of programs. Moreover, such a prohibition would harm consumers by, among other things, depriving them of lower-priced offerings, and as FTC Commissioner Ohlhausen points out, ?such a ban may prohibit ad supported broadband services and thereby eliminate a way to increase broadband adoption.”

Yes, that’s Comcast actually trying to argue that charging customers more money for privacy is a good thing because it will lower rates and improve broadband adoption. Except as we all know, it’s the lack of competition in the broadband space that sets broadband pricing and adoption. And there’s yet to be an ISP that has seriously embraced the idea of offering a lower-priced service if consumers agree to have their behavior monetized. All AT&T is doing is taking an already expensive broadband service and tacking a very steep privacy surcharge on top of it.

In addition to trying to argue that the FCC doesn’t have the authority to police such behavior (not true, it’s simply updating existing Title II privacy rules governing phone network CPNI and applying them to broadband), Comcast said that making privacy a luxury option is simply a “bargained-for exchange of information for service”:

“A bargained-for exchange of information for service is a perfectly acceptable and widely used model throughout the U.S. economy, including the Internet ecosystem, and is consistent with decades of legal precedent and policy goals related to consumer protection and privacy.”

Again though, the implementation of this idea at AT&T is unique because in the broadband market, users can’t switch providers if they don’t like their privacy practices. Meanwhile, AT&T not only makes opting out expensive, it makes it incredibly cumbersome and confusing — ensuring that the least number of users actually take the option. These ISPs consistently argue that they should be treated just like Google and Facebook when it comes to privacy regulations, intentionally ignoring the lack of competition in last mile broadband.

As they push harder into content and ads, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon have all repeatedly tried to argue that there should be absolutely no privacy rules governing broadband because they can self-regulate in the absence of meaningful competition. But as we saw when Verizon was busted for covertly modifying wireless packets to track consumers (one of the things that drove the FCC to take this route to begin with), it’s abundantly clear that’s simply not the case.

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Companies: comcast

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Comments on “Comcast Tells The FCC It Should Be Able To Charge Broadband Users A Premium For Privacy”

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56 Comments
DannyB (profile) says:

Again Government Overreach

The government is obviously anti-business. Trying to enforce unnecessary regulation upon poor beleaguered Comcast.

Why shouldn’t Comcast be able to charge extra fees for:
* privacy
* service that actually works
* acceptable levels of service
* protection from comcast employees intruding onto your property unannounced and for unspecified purposes
* a premium service agreement without the standard clause allowing comcast to harvest your, and your family’s organs

Comcast strongly supports letting the free market forces decide . . . as long as comcast is the ONLY player allowed in that market.

The government should not be trying to tell Comcast how to run its business. After all, Comcast is an award winning company, year after year winning awards for worst service and most hated company.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Again Government Overreach

I had hoped it was clear that I do not blame the free market. I thought I had pointed out that Comcast operates effectively as a monopolist without the pressures of free market forces.

I also hoped it was obvious that regulation is how to fix the lack of a free market. I had hoped the example of organ harvesting made that clear. I suppose if Comcast demanded organ harvesting in exchange for working service, that regulators could possibly do something about that. (Although whether they actually would might depend upon campaign contributions — which could outweigh the public outcry over comcast harvesting people’s organs.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Again Government Overreach

Sorry if I am misunderstanding but it looks like you were being sarcastic with “Trying to enforce unnecessary regulation upon poor beleaguered Comcast.”

Regulation will NEVER fix a free market! The very act of Regulation removes free market principles, so the moment you regulate you have shat free market right out the fucking window.

That being said, there is a ‘sliver’ of regulation that I would agree with which is Anti-Monoploy and Anti-Trust regulation. These regulations in America are only called upon when someone has a political axe to grind, otherwise every other form of terrible and corruption focused “regulation” you can find are at play in this so-call “Free Market”.

The term “Regulation” as you are putting forth only gets you one thing. “Government in bed with business”… and that just means that citizens lose even more because now the business has government sanctioned butt fucking of the customers!

The majority of the History of the FCC itself is a standing beacon of proof of this! The FTC is right on its heels as well. There are still tons of businesses just flat out ignoring the regulations, only to be heeled when “enough” people start complaining. And with the number of complaints with telecom and still not much done to them by the FCC and FTC…. yea keep screaming for that regulation.

You will only get just what you wanted to get RID of.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Again Government Overreach

If anti-Trust laws had any useful meaning whatsoever they would go after ISPs for their anti-competitive behavior or buying politicians and abusing the lack of competition to prey on consumers. It’s an outrage and the current state of ISPs are a perfect example of what anti-trust laws should be exactly intended for.

Instead they use it to go after Google for no good reason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Again Government Overreach

Man did you miss the boat on that one.

If the ONLY tools the government has are those types of regulation they they will use them more often because they will have little else to do. And when government has little to do, they lose funding, so they will do more than they do know to stay relevant!

Are you figuring out how this all works yet? I am guessing you are not.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Again Government Overreach

Without regulation, there is not only the (very high) risk of a monopoly, but other risks. Unchecked greed knows no bounds.
* fees, extra fees, and more fees
* high prices
* poor quality
* outrageous contract terms
* polluting our air and water, just, because they can! Who’s going to stop them?
* requiring your firstborn, buried somewhere in fine print
* harvesting your organs, to increase executive bonuses

It makes me sick when people say no regulation is needed. The behavior of companies in an absence of regulation proves the need for regulation.

It makes me even sicker to hear a politication, like in a state, such as Texas, say something like “we can’t have regulation, this is a pro-business state”. Here’s a clue: behaving as if you are part of the community, instead of trying to exploit it, and it’s natural resources — IS GOOD BUSINESS, for the long term. Not just this quarter.

Cetus says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Again Government Overreach

The government should just butt out of the marketplace. It used to be that the boss could demand sexual favors of those under him. Purely voluntary, of course. If you didn’t like it you were free to go find a job somewhere else. Then the government came in and said “you can’t do that anymore”! Why not? It’s my business, I can run it how I want! I don’t need the government telling me how to run my business!

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Again Government Overreach

There is not, and never has been a free market.

http://on-t-internet.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/pirate-party-talking-points-free-market.html

However, market forces do exist and you ignore them at your peril. Since the game is rigged, we need rules and a referee. That’s what regulation is for.

Finally, bear the Twofold Principle in mind when replying to this comment. It’ll save a lot of typing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Again Government Overreach

You are being dishonest, and terribly so.

Regulation IS corruption! Yes free market is self-regulation why in the fuck to you think the Businesses want to get rid of the free market? Every BIG business LOVES regulation/corruption because they can BUY regulations that help the big guys succeed while the little guys struggle.

Comcast does not want a free market any more than ignorant folk like you. You all have bought into the “I need Nanny Government to change my diapers and make decisions for me” bullshit.

Does this quote help make you understand?

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.

~Thomas Jefferson

In a world devoid of Free Market means you get to attend to the TOO small degree of liberty side. There are now so many laws and regulations that no human fucking being can possibly know them and just like in Gone in 60 seconds… “if you use an aerosol can in a manner other than directed”… Maybe, just maybe one of these days you idiots will figure a few of these things out!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Again Government Overreach

You are being silly, and terribly so.

Your definitions do not coincide with those found in dictionaries across the globe.

Your Appeal to Authority is weak sauce.

Apparently a course in economics would be beneficial to you, your “free market” is a mental construct and does not really exist anywhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Again Government Overreach

Actually it is true, there is really no such thing as a Free Market.

However that is why we refer to them as free market “principles”. The problem here is that you call free market a bad guy while calling corruption a good guy.

Neither are inherently good or bad. It’s just far easier for corruption to set in with regulation than it is for a free market.

The definitions argument is really a straw man. Regulation by government is ‘effectively’ the same as corruption despite having different definitions because that is the only direction government moves. Show me all throughout history where a government slowly started to give freedom back to their people without bloodshed and THEN you can say I am wrong.

When a government allows more freedom, it is because “The Citizens” PUSHED BACK HARD ENOUGH!

Here are a few simple maxims that are hopefully not too hard for you to understand.

The Bigger the Government the smaller the Individual!
Too Big to Fail!
How much liberty do you want? How much do you need? How much do you think Government believes you should get?
Do you have rights? Try disobeying a Police Officer!

Regulation = Law, but we use them in different contexts! Every time a new regulation shows up things are fucked up, and then idiots like you go blaming the wrong fucking thing. This is why we cannot have nice things, this is why we are continuing the slide into being a weak nation. YOU are why things will only get worse and not better. You would rather see it all burn instead of getting a clue!

I could on and on, but I don’t think you even remotely understand!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Again Government Overreach

I keep telling people that it’s not enough for us to only contact our political lawmakers. We should also contact our corporate lawmakers.

Everyone should contact Comcast and let them know how angry you are at them for

A: Buying monopolistic laws to gain a monopolistic position
B: Abusing that monopolistic position to harm consumers

Contact their employees, let them know. Let them know every chance you get. If everyone does it it’ll have an impact.

After all corporations spread their propaganda far and wide. They spread it to all media outlets, politicians, regulators, and to basically anyone that would listen. We the people shouldn’t limit whom we spread our message to. This war needs to be fought on all fronts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Again Government Overreach

If you don’t have Comcast what you can do is call their phone number, get someone on the line (pretend it’s a call because you want new service on the automated system) and say the following.

“While I don’t have Comcast I am outraged at how service providers such as yourselves buy politicians to limit competition and then you abuse the lack of competition to raise prices, set broadband caps, and spy on your customers. I consider you guys the worst kind of criminals and our ‘justice’ [word said in a sarcastic tone] system is criminal for allowing this.”

Or you can leave a message on an answering machine that says this.

Then hang up.

Again, it would take a whole lot of callers to get the message through but if enough people start directly calling out these corporations for their misdeeds and voicing their opinions the message will get through.

Perhaps protesting their corporate buildings with signs as well instead of just protesting Congress or political buildings, especially since the representatives are usually not at their political destinations when negotiating laws but instead are meeting with corporate lobbyists in private. Heck, you’ll be more likely to find your politicians at these corporate buildings.

Anonymous Coward says:

Short memory much?

(one of the things that drove the FCC to take this route to begin with)

The FCC created this fucking mess, they do not get the “out of jail free” card just because they are trying to do something to clean it up. They were not driven to anything!

The FCC has no merit, this article is like saying we should praise a Rich guy for giving a poor man a $250,000 home after he wheeled and dealed with city council members behind the scenes to have his $350,000 home demolished or rezoned!

Dave Cortright says:

VPN FTW

I have Sonic broadband, which is simply reselling AT&T Uverse. They provide a VPN service so that AT&T can’t capture my traffic. I’m sure it would be cheaper for people to pay for a 3rd party VPN service rather than pay their own ISP for “privacy”. I wouldn’t even trust them to respect my privacy if I did pay for it. I’m sure we will hear of them turning over data to a govt agency despite the customer “paying for privacy”.

Anonymous Coward says:

So they want to get in the VPN business,

which is a business that wouldn’t exist if they weren’t already violating peoples civil rights.

I’m sure the FCC swears it’s oath to the Constitution. So it doesn’t really matter formal regulatory authority the FCC has. It isn’t just THEIR duty to rectify this, it is ALL of our duties.

That One Guy (profile) says:

What's the problem then?

As they push harder into content and ads, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon have all repeatedly tried to argue that there should be absolutely no privacy rules governing broadband because they can self-regulate in the absence of meaningful competition.

If they have no plans on violating customer privacy then they won’t have anything at all to worry about regarding rules protecting customer privacy. Would be like me complaining about rules against skydiving without a parachute, it’s never going to be an issue because I’d never do that so what possible objection could I have with it beyond ‘Don’t you lot have better things to be doing’?

On the other hand if they do plan on violating customer privacy such that they would be in conflict with rules regarding customer privacy, then I suppose they’d have something to worry about with those kinds of rules.

Given that their argument is rather telling, and not in a way that makes them look in any way good.

Chris Brand says:

Ads impossible with privacy ?

Interesting that we’ve lived with ad-supported TV for years without any ability for the broadcasters to determine what we’re watching, but apparently we’re supposed to believe that you can’t do ad-supported services without deep packet inspection.

Apparently showing the same ads to everyone is impossible for some reason ?

Charles Wegrzyn (profile) says:

So What?

If I was a Comcast customer I would seriously think about getting a VPN account and funneling all my traffic through it. That way all Comcast gets from me is a single IP address – that of the VPN service.

If I was with a VPN company I’d be encouraging Comcast to do exactly what it is doing and at the same time see my services to every Comcast customer! lol

DV Henkel-Wallace (profile) says:

They probably don't want to win this...

In addition to trying to argue that the FCC doesn’t have the authority to police such behavior

They should be careful raising this: if they win it, there’s a whole raft of FTC lawyers ready to rain down brimstone on them — with more teeth than the FCC. In fact it might lead to more comprehensive consumer protection. Trust me, Comcast, you have a sweet deal already.

Private eyes, nose, ears, fingers, toes, hair, hei says:

And they want sovereignty

In our democratic nation, privacy is the default and companies not wishing to set that as default are selling our information without our authorization and knowledge.
First of all, why should anyone want to do business with a company that does not respect our right to privacy. BOYCOTT them instantly. Why in the hell would we want to see these dickheads get sovereignty? Throw out all due process and presumption of innocence and kiss America goodbye when that happens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Worth noting the only candidacy with a strong Internet privacy position

is Johnson/Weld.

HRC will say absolutely anything, so can be trusted on nothing. And she has been shilled by pretty much everybody who is antithetical to the current evolution of civil rights debate in this country. And Comcast has probably already promised Trump the use of their DPI to make lists of his critics for an impending political purge.

So it comes down to whether you will watch the country drown, watch it burn, or vote third party.

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