Comcast proposes cheaper broadband, in exchange for your privacy

Privacy buffs might like this even less than Windows 10.

Comcast has asked the Federal Communications Commission that it be allowed to offer discounted broadband in exchange for using more user data—and it's not even the first ISP to do it.

A year ago, AT&T began offering AT&T GigaPower broadband in Kansas City, Mo., with prices beginning at $70 per month. But there was a catch: If a customer wanted AT&T to “ignore” their online activities, it would cost almost $30 more per month. Now Comcast wants a piece of that action.

DSL Reports states that Comcast executives held a discussion with FCC officials, which was summarized in a subsequent FCC filing by the ISP. Comcast “urged” the FCC to allow “business models offering discounts or other value to consumers in exchange for allowing ISPs to use their data.”

According to Comcast, 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.” The letter points out that FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen noted that prohibiting ad-supported broadband services could hinder greater broadband adoption by denying users more affordable options.

In March, the FCC passed a notice of proposed rule-making that would require broadband suppliers to get opt-in permission from customers before using their personal information for reasons other than marketing their own products. In its meeting, Comcast argued that agreeing to the lower price serves as that consent.

Comcast hasn’t said what the proposed discounts would be, or where they would be offered.

Why this matters: It’s a classic case of: Who knows best, the consumer or the government? The FCC, for its part, seems determined to quash Comcast’s request before it even gets off the ground. “The agency knows best and must save consumers from their poor privacy choices,” Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said previously, and presumably sarcastically.

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Mark Hachman

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