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National Broadband Plan: A Look at Chapter 4 and Privacy

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Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of articles written by staff summarizing each chapter of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. Chapter 4 summaries appear in three separate articles due to the breadth of the chapter’s content.

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2010 – Chapter Four of the plan focuses on broadband competition and innovation policy. It’s one of the most far-reaching sections in the entire 360-page document. It starts by addressing various mobile and fixed networks and moves on to discuss specific devices, privacy and identity theft. It concludes with discussion about the need for innovating and changing the current network.

This third and final article summarizing Chapter 4 looks at the FCC’s take on set-top boxes, consumer privacy and touches on digital taxation.

The FCC believes that in order to expand intellectual property, TV set-top boxes need to have open standards for users to access their choice of media. The agency sees set-top boxes as particularly important in the broadband debate as video increasingly drives more broadband usage.

It also recommends that the agency initiate a proceeding to ensure that all multichannel video programming distributors install a device in all new subscriber homes or those requiring replacement set-top boxes by Dec 31, 2012.

In the next section, the plan shifts back to consumer protection by looking at consumer privacy.

As more users become comfortable shopping, paying bills, using e-mail, maintaining an online calendar, using social media and using geo-location programs, companies are able to develop highly accurate profiles of users.

Users tend to use a variety of products from a single company for ease of use – so that they only need a single log in and can maintain one profile containing all information. The FCC believes that the use of user data needs to be monitored to ensure that users are not being adversely targeted for advertising or that the data is being used for improper purposes. With the growth of the mobile ad market, this targeted advertisement is going to become a larger and more important market for advertisers.

The FCC cites a recent survey that says privacy is one of the top concerns users have about the internet. While the Federal Trade Commission has jurisdiction over identity theft, the FCC often works with that agency to develop new programs to assist consumers.

The plan recommends that the FCC and FTC work together to create a set of best practices for the use of user information this would be applicable to Web sites and internet service providers. Additionally, Congress should try to spur the creation of third party identity providers that would be the keepers of user data. The issue of child safety is also addressed, with the suggestion of increased education to children.

The plan looks at the rise of digital goods such as e-books, mp3 downloads and how they might be taxed. The plan does not directly support taxation of these goods but it recommends the federal government look at a method for possibly developing a framework for the creation of a tax or more examination as to whether a tax should be levied.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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