FCC votes in favor of broadband subsides, online privacy protections

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held two significant votes on Thursday, enacting policies which would help protect the privacy of internet-users and provide subsidies to help low-income Americans afford online broadband access.

Both votes were split down party lines, with both Republican commissioners voting against expansion of the Lifeline program, colloquially known as the “Obama phone”.

However, all three Democrats on the FCC board ended up voting in favor of increasing Lifeline’s budget to $2.25 billion per year and giving recipients the option of using the $9.25 per month subsidy to use for either a landline, cellphone or broadband internet service.

A deal that had long been in the making between Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn and both Republicans to “hard cap” the program at $1.75-$2 billion was scrapped at the last minute by Chairman Tom Wheeler.

“Upon further deliberation, I concluded that such a mechanism could not fully achieve my vision for a 21st century Lifeline program,” Clyburn later explained.

In 2015, the FCC oversaw $1.5 million in Lifeline expenditures which provided landline and cellphone subsidies for 13 million people.

The new budget outline for the program will be indexed for inflation to keep up with increasing consumer costs and new provisions go into effect December 1.

The expansion of Lifeline could help provide broadband to the 5 million U.S. households with children that currently have no internet connection.

The second vote on Thursday advanced Chairman Wheeler’s proposal to legally limit internet service providers (ISP) practice of collecting their customer’s browsing information, and then selling it to third-party advertisers.

The policy outline, now set for a public comment period, calls for ISP’s to offer an opt-out clause in conjunction with internal data programs and requires telecommunications companies to receive consent from customers before selling their personal records to outside agencies.

ISPs and Republicans argue that if the new rules were to be adopted, it would put telecommunication companies at a competitive disadvantage in relation to non-ISP entities which also collect user-data, such as Google or Facebook.


[NPR] [U.S. News & World Report] [Los Angeles Times] [Photo courtesy engadget.com]