FCC wants limits on how ISPs like Comcast use data from online activity

Comcast executive vice president David Cohen (left) said in a blog post that the proposed rules are "inexplicably targeted to block ISPs ... from entering and competing as disruptors and upstarts in the online advertising marketplace, which is dominated by edge providers and other non-ISPs."

The Federal Communications Commission proposed restrictions Thursday on how Comcast Corp. and other big Internet service providers can use personal information gleaned from online activity for advertising.

Under the proposed rules, consumers would have to specifically "opt-in" and allow ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon Communications Inc. to use their private information for advertising.

The rules would protect personal privacy, the commission said. But Comcast harshly criticized them as anticompetitive because they exempted social-media companies and Internet "edge providers" whose business models are based on sniffing out online personal information to target advertising.

Thursday's FCC vote followed party lines, with the three Democrats voting for it and the two Republicans against it.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said that while individuals choose to visit social-media sites, they are forced to use Comcast and other Internet service providers as gateways.

"Our ISPs handle all of our network traffic," Wheeler said. "That means an ISP has a broad view of all of its customers' unencrypted online activity - when we are online, the websites we visit, and the apps we use."

Comcast executive vice president David Cohen said in a blog post Thursday that Wheeler's proposed rules are "inexplicably targeted to block ISPs, who have been responsible stewards of consumers' privacy for decades, from entering and competing as disruptors and upstarts in the online advertising marketplace, which is dominated by edge providers and other non-ISPs."

Federal laws already restrict the ways in which Comcast and other cable companies can use personal information they directly collect about their customers.

Thursday's vote begins an administrative process of drafting the final rules. A vote could take place later this year.

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