The Federal Communications Commission today issued some guidance on protection of consumer privacy. Short of any specific privacy rules, the FCC will apply provisions of Section 222 of the Communications Act to providers of broadband access services. In other words, substitute the term “telecommunications carrier” with the phrase, “broadband internet access service provider” and we will have a template for broadband access providers to follow when determining how to use consumer information that they collect either from consumers themselves or the other broadband access providers with which traffic, data, and private information are exchanged.
Which has me asking. Just what type of consumer information do broadband providers collect and how do they use it? To provide an example of information collected and how it is used, I took a look at the privacy agreement provided by All Points Broadband, a broadband provider located in Loudon County, Virginia. The company collects personal information including a subscriber’s name, billing address, credit card information, service address, and the nature of the devices used by the subscriber.
Personal information provided by the subscriber to the company may be combined with other personal data gleaned from the company’s Facebook page, the company’s affiliates, third party operators, market research firms, or credit reporting firms. All Points also collects non-personal information such as the specific device identifier for a subscriber’s device, the browser being used by the subscriber, or the page requested during a subscriber search.
The company also collects information about the use of their network including the equipment used on the subscriber’s premises, time when the service is being used, the type of data being transmitted, the content received and transmitted by the subscriber, and the websites visited by the subscriber.
And just how is this data being used? Network information is used by the company to monitor the performance of the company’s network. The company, using network information, assesses how the subscriber uses the company’s services including the amount and type of data beineg received and transmitted.
Personal information may be used to send the subscriber marketing and advertising messages about the company’s servivces and website. While disclosure of personal information to third parties is provided only with a subscriber’s consent, the company reserves the right to disclose non-personal information or any other information that the subscriber decides to make public.
In an era of big data, broadband companies are sitting on a treasure chest of information that can generate up to 10% economic value, depending on the quality of analytics, both from internal and external monetization points of view.
Could the FCC’s application of Section 222 to data collected by broadband providers threaten a provider’s revenues and profits? My answer is yes. For example, take Section 222(c)(1) of the Communications Act. Under this section, broadband access providers receiving customer proprietary network information would only be able to use this network information in the provision of broadband services from which the information was derived or for service necessary for providing broadband servivces.
Broadband providers would have to make the argument that network information has a distinct meaning from personal or run the risk of losing revenues from the acquisition and distribution of this data. Should the FCC’s network neutrality rules survive court challenge, the agency should consider making a distinction in its rules between network information and personal information.