Barton, DeGette Concerned About Set-Top Proposal

Say it could penalize customers as much, or more than, pledge-violators

The bipartisan co-chairs of the Congressional Privacy Caucus have written to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to say they are worried existing privacy protections covering cable and satellite subs will be lost when the FCC adopts its third-party navigation (set-top) proposal.

In a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler dated May 11, Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said that the FCC's proposal as currently constituted could hurt consumers.

Wheeler has proposed requiring MVPDs to make programming streams and data available to third parties. While that data is protected under FCC cable and satellite privacy rules, when it gets into the hands of edge-provider third parties, those rules no longer apply and the FCC has said it does not have authority to apply new rules to the edge but will instead require them to self-certify they are abiding by similar privacy rules or MVPDs don't have to provide the data.

The MVPD privacy rules require them to clearly explain data-collection and use to customers and prohibit them from collecting personally identifiable information without consent. Subs also can sue in federal courts should the protections be violated.

But the legislators fear that under the FCC's proposed regime, should a MVPD conclude a third party had violated that self-certification, the only way to protect customer information would be to shut off the data and programming streams to those boxes. "This outcome will harm consumers equally if not more so than it would the third party in violation," said Barton and DeGette.

The pair said the FCC should be spurring robust competition in navigation devices but not at the expense of privacy or loss of service through no fault of the customer.

Wheeler has said the proposal is a work in progress and the final product would reflect the input, and there has been a lot of it, that the commission has been getting.