FCC Finalizes Opt In ISP Rule for Data Collection.

The FCC recently finalized a set of rules to protect the privacy of subscribers to various broadband ISPs such as Comcast and Time Warner, and even mobile ISPs like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. The concern here is that ISPs collect data on their customers’ browsing habits and because all customer traffic goes through their servers, they have even more access to user data than than almost any other internet company. Beyond web history, which can be used to ascertain things like medical conditions or financial situations, ISPs can also figure out a subscriber’s geolocation. The FCC wants subscribers consent by opting in before ISPs can access, use, and sell that data.

This is very interesting and I think it sets a precedent for our privacy laws to reach a point similar to the EU’s opt-in internet privacy laws. The FCC can only create rules for these ISPs. Companies like Google and Facebook can only be regulated by the FTC, not the FCC. Before these rules were finalized, T-Mobile complained about a “level playing field” because these rules put ISPs at a greater disadvantage than other internet companies. This situation might motivate the major ISPs to put pressure on the FTC to pass a similar opt-in rule for other internet companies.

FCC Fines T-Mobile $48 Million

The FCC determined that T-Mobile failed to sufficiently inform its customers of the speed and data restrictions for its “Unlimited” wireless data plans. T-Mobile’s current “3 percent policy” dictates that during peak congestion hours, customers on unlimited data plans who have gone over 26 GBs and are within the top 3% of bandwidth usage, will have their data deprioritized. The FCC claimed that…

Company advertisements and other disclosures may have led unlimited data plan customers to expect that they were buying better and faster service than what they received.

$35.5 million of the fee will be used for a customer benefit program that discounts the price of accessories sold by T-Mobile and gives customers an additional 4GB of data for a month in December. $7.5 million will be the fine sent to the US Treasury. The FCC is also requiring T-Mobile spend at least $5 million on providing access to technology in low income school districts.

Additionally, T-Mobile will start using the FCC’s consumer “Broadband Facts” label which looks very similar to the Nutrition Facts label one would find on food packaging. Very interesting. A link to a website that has created a Broadband Facts label for a few of the most popular ISPs in the country:

http://www.broadbandsearch.net/page/broadband-facts-labels

Here is one for Xfinity for example:

xfinity-label

This is all very interesting news to me as a T-Mobile customer! The customer benefit program is a little lame in my opinion though. Can I get a discount on my bill instead please???

I feel like I have always known T-Mobile’s Unlimited Data plan was not truly “unlimited” and was limited to the 3% policy. Truly unlimited mobile data plans died quite a few years ago shortly after the iPhone and Android devices started gaining popularity so I’ve learned to be very suspicious of any telecom using the term “unlimited” and as a result read the fine print very thoroughly, ask customer support clarifying questions, write down names, etc. I shouldn’t have to do this though and I think many other people, unlike me, just go by what the advertisement says, and this is what the FCC has issue with.

I’m most excited about the prospect of a Broadband Facts label. I usually read through basically all of the contracts I sign for ISP and telecom data plans but it’s tedious. Having all the data condensed into one label would be a great time saver. It’s currently not required but it seems like the FCC’s transparency rules  might just motivate ISP and telecom companies to do something as simple as that.