Today we  submitted  comments  to  the  Federal  Communications Commission (FCC) calling on the agency to implement pro-consumer policies to bring faster and better  broadband  service to  all  Americans,  promote  competition  and  choice in the  broadband market, and protect an open Internet. 

“The Internet is an indispensable tool that is necessary to stay competitive globally, and the Commission has a mandate to ensure the deployment of advanced broadband  services  nationwide,” said Michael Beckerman, President and CEO of The Internet Association.  “Access to high speed Internet service is not a luxury in today’s economy.  It is a necessity.  Policymakers must encourage broadband abundance and ensure high speed Internet service is deployed everywhere.”

The Internet Association urged the FCC to do all that it can to promote competition and remove barriers in the broadband marketplace:  “The Commission should use the full weight of its authority to prevent any  private  or  public  entity  from inhibiting the  deployment  of  broadband  networks  or  standing in the way of increased competition in providing these services.”  The comments also ask the FCC to closely examine the  use  of  restrictive  data caps and interconnection  requirements that “ration edge  providers’ abilities to provide consumers with the data they have requested…”

To read more, click here.

Earlier this week, the FTC hosted a full day workshop that brought together the “who’s who” of DC privacy wonks to talk the current legal context and the future of big data.  Continuing the Administration’s investigation into the benefits and costs of big data, according to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez’s opening remarks, the FTC workshop aimed to explore whether and how big data helps American consumers.

What you need to know from the day’s discussion:

What is “big data?”

There is no consensus definition of “big data.” But regardless of how you define it, “big data” depends on three factors - (1) volume; (2) veracity; and (3) variety.  

The promise of “big data.”

Several panelists acknowledged the important societal and community benefits of big data, particularly as a solution to solving problems related to health and educational disparities.  Using information to solve problems holds tremendous promise.  Participants also raised the potential for data driven discrimination.  

The Remedy

Panelists advocated that specific harms must first be identified, and gaps in existing laws be identified, before moving forward with legislation to tackle consumer harms (real or perceived).  The current self-regulatory approach to privacy permits the seamless operation of the Internet and its services and products.

#AlternativeScores is trending.

“Big data” has the potential to provide credit to populations who are not well served by traditional credit reports.  One participant cited to a LexisNexis study finding that 41% of African Americans and Hispanics could not be scored traditionally.  Credit card use among Millennials is on the decline, which means that alternate scoring will be needed to evaluate creditworthy borrowers.

Privacy and fairness are not interchangeable

Historically, privacy and discrimination have been addressed in separate legal frameworks, and we believe the two concepts should not be conflated.  Ours and other perspectives were heard on the panel.  While one panelist opined that privacy and fairness are aligned in important and fundamental ways, another disagreed and countered that these two terms are completely unrelated.

We [want to] see right through you, data brokers

Commissioner Brill discussed the FTC’s latest report on data brokers entitled “Data Brokers: A Call for Transparency and Accountability.” Brill expressed her support for legislation that would create greater transparency and accountability around data brokers, including consumer profiles, how they are used, and how they might harm underserved populations.  

Education is key

Several participants recommended that, moving forward, resources should be devoted toward determining the best way to educate consumers on the data that’s being used about them.

So what happens next? There is no clear path forward.  The FTC plans to identify areas where big data violates existing laws (FTC Act, FCRA, etc.) and may follow up with additional events or a report on the workshop.

The big data policy debate looks set to continue.

While Washington D.C. focused on net neutrality and the FCC, this week in Brussels saw a new EU Commission lineup emerge under the Presidency of former Luxembourg Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker. Although the exact Commissioner lineup remains fluid pending confirmation by the EU Parliament  - a similar process to Senate confirmation here in the U.S. – President-elect Juncker has wasted no time setting out his blueprint for the new Commission, its priorities, and its goals.  Included here are several initiatives that will impact the Internet beyond the EU’s borders.  Overall, signs are that Juncker recognizes that the Internet can play an important role in economic recovery and growth in the EU, and that the Commission should treat the Internet with a light touch.

First, Juncker has directed his incoming Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Gunther Oettinger, to create legislation to remove barriers to “a connected Digital Single Market” within the first six months of the Commission’s term.  Concrete(ish) steps include modernization of the EU copyright rules; providing a legal and regulatory framework that “drives start-ups, the take-up of new businesses, and job creation.” With respect to global Internet governance, Juncker calls for “a global governance architecture for the Internet which is legitimate, transparent, accountable, sustainable, and inclusive.  This includes ensuring the Internet remains open, a driving force for innovation and an international resource that benefits the European economy and citizens.”

Second, it looks likely that U.S. trade negotiators will see some movement on TTIP in the near future.  Juncker has mandated his incoming trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, to work towards a “reasonable and balanced [TTIP],” stating that the Commission’s aim in the negotiations “must be to conclude [them] on a reciprocal and mutually beneficial basis.”  

Finally, on Safe Harbor and EU data protection reform, Juncker has set an aggressive – and, many believe, unrealistic – deadline of six months for his new Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip.  Specifically, Ansip’s mandate calls for him to “oversee, during the first six months, the conclusion of negotiations on the reform of Europe’s data protection rules as well as the review of the Safe Harbor arrangement with the U.S.”

Time will tell whether the Juncker Commission will be a good or a bad thing for the Internet.  But judging from his intentions going into office, at least for now, he appears to an advocate for the Internet’s capacity to create jobs and growth in a sluggish EU economy.

“The American people have spoken in record numbers – The FCC must take strong action to protect an open Internet. The Internet industry is proud to stand with more than 1 million Americans fighting to protect the innovation and freedom of the Internet,” said Michael Beckerman, President and CEO of The Internet Association.

Click here to view our reply comments, frequently asked questions, press release, and comic http://bit.ly/NN_reply

While many of us were busy settling into the fall schedule, The Internet Association hit the ground running with its inaugural Internet Policy Symposium co-hosted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics (IOP) and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.  In a two-day event held at the Harvard IOP September 4 and 5, we brought together Administration representatives, local policymakers, academics, media, and industry reps to talk all things Internet policy related.  

Bummed you missed it? No worries, we’ve got you covered.  Here’s what you should know:

  1. Kicking Things Off

Maggie Williams, former White House Senior Advisor, and the newly appointed Director of the Institute of Politics, kicked things off with opening remarks and set the tone for the in-depth discussion of “complex” and myriad policy issues.  Michael Beckerman, President & CEO of The Internet Association, followed Smith and explained why the conference came at a timely inflection point for the industry.


  1. To Governments, With Love: Try to Stay Out of the Way (But Do Take Care of the Trolls)

During the Thursday night forum discussion, Harvard’s Archon Fung moderated a discussion on how governments affect the Internet entrepreneur. Featured panelists were Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor Founder & CEO, and Harvard’s Professor Susan Crawford.  Kaufer highlighted the importance of governments not getting in the way of innovation and gave a nod to patent reform efforts back in D.C. to tackle the troll issue; something he described as an entry barrier for small and innovative start ups with neither the time no resources to fight patent litigation.


  1. So, How Do I Become the Next Zuck?

According to Kaufer,  the Internet is your oyster: just (1) surf the web, learn, and come up with an idea (2) be persistent, and (3) be ready to fail and to change your approach.  Thanks to the Internet, it really is that easy!


  1. “Roundtables That Have Right Angles…”

Harvard Professor Jonathan Zittrain teed the second day’s “roundtable” sessions perfectly.  Following the day’s welcome remarks from Beckerman, Zittrain moderated the first policy roundtable discussion on policy issues including intermediary liability, privacy (generally), the right to be forgotten (specifically), net neutrality, and government surveillance.  


  1. Current U.S. policy is good for the Internet …

First, do no harm: we’re looking at you Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and Section 512 of the DMCA. Though perhaps intended by Congress to limit speech, Section 230 ended up being a critical law for promoting free speech and openness online. Further, industry agreed - there’s no reason to reopen the DMCA - it’s working just fine.


  1. Rough Waters Internationally …

While laws and policies on intermediary liability support the Internet industry in the U.S., the same can’t be said on a global scale.  Things are a bit more unsettled, and the lack of legal and regulatory certainty for companies yields a less than friendly environment for industry.  Post the Arab Spring uprising, there’s a trend with governments’ abroad in implementing policies to restrict users’ online communication regarding social unrest.


  1. Local Governments Jumping on the Internet Bandwagon …

For the public good.  Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Chief Information Office for the City of Boston, explained that many municipalities are transitioning from “being reflexively” against new technologies and using Big Data to develop policies to support technologies that meet public needs.


  1. Nothing to Do With Us.

Sharing economy companies like AirBnb, Lyft, and Uber are consistently facing regulations that generally have nothing to do with the Internet (e.g., land use).  To combat the hurdles faced by local regulations and entrenched interests, these companies strive to work collaboratively with cities, mayors, local government officials, etc. in order to offer and expand their services to users.   


Click here to view all the photos from the event. Or, you can watch video footage of each discussion. Click here for the forum: Innovation In Action: How Government Policies Affect the Internet Entrepreneur, here for the roundtable: Will Governments Break the Internet? and here for the final roundtable: Your Next Big Startup Idea: Why Internet Policy Matters.

Tonight at 6pm eastern we’ll be in Boston, MA for the 2014 Internet Policy Symposium, in collaboration with The Harvard Institute of Politics and The Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Watch the livestream here: http://bit.ly/govnet14 and follow the action on Twitter with #GovNet2014

The panel discussion will include Susan Crawford, a John A. Reilly Visiting Professor in Intellectual Property, Harvard Law School; Special Assistant to the President for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (2009) and Stephen Kaufer, President, CEO and Co-Founder TripAdvisor Inc. The moderator for the event will be Archon Fung, Academic Dean and Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship, Harvard Kennedy School.