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Cliff Stearns

Rep. Boucher Introduces ‘Voluntary Incentives Auction’ Act

in Spectrum by

WASHINGTON,  July 30, 2010 – Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, in coordination with ranking member Cliff Stearns, unveiled a new bill aimed at addressing America’s scarce supply of spectrum. The legislation, titled the “Voluntary Incentive Auctions Act,” would permit the Federal Communications Commission to conduct incentive-based spectrum auctions in which a spectrum holder voluntarily relinquishes its spectrum in return for a portion of the auction proceeds.

“Each year, millions of users graduate from basic cell phones to smart phones that employ a range of data services requiring far greater bandwidth than traditional cell phones,” said Boucher, D-Va. “At the same time, smart phone applications are becoming more elaborate. The combination is placing unprecedented demands on our limited wireless spectrum availability.”

Stearns, R-Fla., struck a harsher note. “We are facing a looming spectrum crisis,” he said. “It’s very clear that the U.S. will need additional spectrum to meet the growing demand for wireless broadband.”

The legislation is aimed at fulfilling a recommendation of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, which argues that companies should be able to voluntarily relinquish their spectrum in order to see profits from government auctions.

Boucher and Stearns’ legislation marks a move in that direction.

Public Interest Groups Press for Ambitious Broadband Networks As Part of Plan

in Broadband Data/Broadband's Impact/National Broadband Plan by

WASHINGTON, February 18, 2010 – A coalition of public interest groups on Wednesday called on the Federal Communications Commission to include a set of ambitious benchmarks and policies in the agency’s upcoming national broadband plan.

The agency will discuss aspects of the national broadband plan, now due on March 17, 2010, at the February monthly meeting being held on Wednesday.

The public interest groups issued their challenge to the FCC on the date the Plan was originally due to Congress, before the FCC sought a month-long delay.

The groups, including Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Free Press, New America Foundation and Public Knowledge, urged the FCC to embrace the following five benchmarks:

  • The FCC should set a goal that U.S. broadband adoption of world-class networks shall equal current rate of telephone adoption, over 90%, by 2020.
  • The FCC should set a goal of substantially improving the level of competition between providers of broadband Internet access to move the country out of a stagnant duopoly by the end of 2012.
  • The FCC should set a goal of establishing real consumer protections for broadband customers within 12-18 months.
  • The FCC should set a goal of implementing new broadband data collection standards and rules for utilizing that data in market analyses by the end of 2010.
  • The FCC should set a goal of establishing rules protecting open markets for speech and commerce on broadband networks as soon as feasible.

The overall tone of the presentation was forward looking, with each panelist speaking on a different aspect of the benchmark goals.

Joel Kelsey from Consumer’s Union focused on the availability of information, and asserted that consumers make better decisions when they have clear information, and that more information would lead to higher broadband adoption rates. He also stated that internet providers can and should be honest with subscribers.

Harold Feld from Public Knowledge stressed that there is no substitute for competition. In order to achieve a more competitive environment, Feld suggested that the FCC establish real benchmarks, engage in spectrum reform, and also reform special access so competitors can afford to bring consumers the service they deserve.

Ben Scott from Free Press zeroed in on the need for an open Internet. He said that the Internet must remain open because an open market is essential for commerce. Scott also stated that openness is more than net neutrality and stressed that interconnection is essential in telecommunications infrastructure and devices, especially since set-top boxes will one day be the gateway to Internet access.

In order for these benchmarks to be achieved, accurate data is essential. Benjamin Lennet from New America Foundation said that without accurate data, agencies cannot make informed decisions. He said that the nation should rely on the wisdom of the crowds and make internet measurement data widely available.

Mark Cooper from Consumer Federation of America repeatedly referred to the universal service fund when explaining the policy goals for the national broadband plan. According to Cooper, the USF measures at the household level. The policy-oriented question should be, therefore, “does this household have broadband service?”

A representative from the office of Rep. Cliff Stearns’s, R-Fla., asked why the focus of broadband policy should be on what networks, instead of on adoption.

The panelists overwhelmingly agreed that digital inclusion and digital evolution are both important policy goals, but there is no need to see conflicts between the goals. In other words, panelists said that better networks and better adoption were not an either/or proposition, but that consumers want both.

Balancing Consumer Choice in the Information Privacy Debate

in Broadband's Impact by

WASHINGTON, July 25, 2009 – Advertisers need to consider consumers’ right to privacy when they collect information on individual internet consumers, a panel of academics, non-profits and industry officials agreed on Friday.

The experts spoke during a panel discussion sponsored by the Technology Policy Institute, a market-oriented think tank on technology issues.

Emphasizing the success of the Internet as an unregulated medium, Florida Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns said it is important to treat any such legislation with caution.

Stearns said that “only the consumer” knows how he or she feels about the information being collected about him.

Still, increased transparency and choice would help in resolving the conflict between advertisers’ needs for information and consumers’ privacy.

Any legislation passed should apply the same privacy rules to similar types of companies collecting the same type of information for the same reasons, he said, and parties accountable only for what they know and control.

Besides the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, Stearns suggested that a new agency could be formed for this type of regulation.

During the panel discussion that followed Stearns’ remarks, Alessandro Acquisti, associate professor of information technology and public policy at the Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University, said that the free market approach might not create an equilibrium between information and privacy, as some people expect.

Many consumers, said Acquisti, “tend to act in a short-sighted manner,” by volunteering personal information for short-term benefits, such as price discounts, and then pay the price later on.

While individual data points cannot be immediately used to identify a consumer, they can, when combined, become “way more sensitive.” For example, when a consumer’s date of birth and state of birth are combined, they can be used to predict his or her social security number, he said.

While there is technology consumers can use to authenticate themselves without identifying themselves, the market is not sufficient to push this technology to full adoption, he said.

Despite the risks associated with collecting consumers’ data, banning data collection is both “impossible” and “undesirable,” said Gerard Lewis, vice president, deputy general counsel and chief privacy officer for Comcast.

Data, ranging from factual and transactional to more personal data, said Lewis, is the “exhaust” of computer systems.

The real issue is not that data is collected and stored, but how, when, and by whom it’s used and associated, he said.

Alan Davidson, director of government relations and U.S. public policy for Google, disagreed with the idea of a “trade-off” between information and privacy.

Advertising and privacy are “not a zero-sum game,” he said.

Davidson spoke of the need to protect consumers’ privacy as a “simple business issue.” If consumers don’t trust internet services, said Davidson, “they aren’t going to use them.” This would ultimately harm the advertisers themselves.

Consumers, therefore, should have transparency and “meaningful choices,” he said.

When Google displays an ad, said Davidson, two notices are displayed along with the ad, one identifying who the advertiser is and the other identifying who placed the ad. Google then allows customers, if they wish, to install a plug allowing them to continually opt out.

Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, agreed with Davidson that there is no inherent contradiction between information collection and privacy. Still, CDT supports a “baseline privacy law,” She said.

Privacy legislation, said Harris, is “not about draconian restriction on companies,” but about “providing consumers with choice,” especially since it is the consumer’s data.

Harris also spoke on the negative effects of consumer privacy violations on advertisers. “When there’s no trust in the medium, there will be devastating results,” she said.

Paul H. Rubin, senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, and Samuel Candler Dobbs professor of economics and law at Emory University in Atlanta, disagreed with Davidson and Harris, saying that “there is a trade-off between privacy and information.”

While there are risks with internet transactions, they are still safer than “real transactions” on paper, he said.

The reason, said Rubin, that many people don’t know about data related risks is because they haven’t bothered to learn about them, because nothing bad has really happened so far.

Rubin posed the following question: why should data collection be more regulated when no one has been able to point to specific harms to consumers?

Broadband Maps a Necessary Component of Stimulus Grants, Says Stearns

in Broadband Data/Broadband Stimulus/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, July 17, 2009 – The House Subcommittee on Communications will hold a hearing “in the near future” on making broadband maps a necessary component of awarding Broadband Initiatives Program and Broadband Technological Opportunities Program grants, subcommittee ranking member Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said Thursday.

Stearns, the luncheon speaker at an Alcatel-Lucent workshop on rural broadband public-private partnerships, is the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce panel.

At the event, French telecommunications representatives spoke on their experiences in bringing broadband to rural territories throughout France.

Stearns said he was concerned that the stimulus was rushed, and called for more congressional oversight of the broadband stimulus programs.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Rural Utilities Services and the Federal Communications Commission are in danger of “throwing money indiscriminately around,” he said.

“Broadband is a transformational infrastructure, and can provide a long-term economic boost to the country,” said Stearns. “But the stimulus package was put together in haste. Many are unsure how some agencies would distribute money.”

To that end, he reiterated the three principles that these grantmaking agencies must follow which he initially called for in past hearings.

First, Stearns said that these agencies must create a comprehensive, nationwide broadband map in order to identify areas that need broadband infrastructure, and to prioritize funding in states that already have a map.

Second, they must focus on getting funding to unserved areas before underserved areas.

Finally, they must allocate funds based on whether the project would remain sustainable after the program ended.

There are already provisions for a nationwide map: the Broadband Data Improvement Act, as included in the Recovery Act, provides for grants to states and non-profit organizations to collaborate in making a national broadband map.

All grant awardees, however, must complete broadband data improvement projects by March 1, 2010, which is after many of the grants made by the NTIA and RUS have been distributed.

Stearns acknowledged that next spring was too soon for a nationwide broadband map to be created.

Therefore, he said he hoped that the hearing would “prevent waste” by enforcing these principles in the grantmaking process.

The recent Notice of Funds Availability outlining the application process for RUS BIP and BTOP grants, did not include specific references to utilizing state or national broadband maps.

On other aspects of that NoFA, Stearns praised the NTIA’s and RUS’s commitment to technological neutrality and reasonable cost per household for broadband deployment.

However, Stearns pointed out that the portions of the NOFA referring to network neutrality, nondiscrimination policies and connectivity were “overly broad.”

As of now, Stearns said, the hearing had not been scheduled yet. “Currently I’m talking to Subcommittee Chairman [Rick] Boucher, [D-Va.]” he said, noting that the subcommittee was currently focused on the Satellite Home Viewer Act and a major privacy bill.

“But the sooner we do this, the better,” said Stearns. “The sooner we have the three principles in place, the better.”

Congress to Reexamine Consumer Privacy on Broadband Networks

in Net Neutrality by

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2009 – Congressional scrutiny of consumer privacy on broadband networks, especially uses of so-called “deep packet inspection” technology, ramped up Thursday as industry representatives and consumer advocates testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.

“Broadband networks are a primary driver of the national economy,” said subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va. It is “fundamentally in the nation’s interest to promote their expanded use,” he said.

Boucher acknowledged that technologies like DPI have beneficial uses for network management and law enforcement. But DPI’s potential for invading consumer privacy is “nothing short of frightening,” he said.

Boucher, who has previously stated his commitment to passing comprehensive privacy legislation during the 111th Congress, announced that his subcommittee would hold a joint hearing with the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee early this summer which would focus privacy and Internet-based companies like Google.

Boucher hinted that the privacy bill, which he wants to develop on a bipartisan basis, would be based largely on the Consumer Privacy Protection Act introduced in the 109th Congress by then-Chairman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.

Stearns, now the ranking member of the subcommittee, cautioned against acting too swiftly against new technologies before their effects on consumers could be documented. “It’s imperative that there be some evidence of harm if we are going to regulate [DPI],” he said. “Overreaching privacy regulation – particularly in the absence of consumer harm – could have a significant negative economic impact.”

Privacy legislation should go beyond broadband and apply to all Internet-based companies equally, said Stearns, now the subcommittee’s ranking member. “Consumers don’t care if you are a search engine or a broadband provider,” he said. “They just want to ensure that their privacy is protected.”

Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., agreed with Stearns call for a unitary regulatory structure. “I don’t think we should be out to get one particular industry,” she said.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said the “growing tide of critics” supporting a single regime “do not understand the purpose of our privacy laws.”

Holding web-based services and telecommunications carriers to the same set of regulations is “neither practical, nor prudent,” Eshoo said. Different industries should be governed fairly, she said – but not under the same regulatory structure.

“It’s time to modernize our telecommunications policies,” said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. Consumers often have no idea what information is being collected about them, he said, much less the opportunity to give consent.

Stupak said current law does not give a clear definition of when affirmative consent is required to collect information.”Without clear direction from Congress…information will continue to go unprotected,” he said.

Center for Democracy and Technology President Leslie Harris said the use of DPI on broadband networks “raises profound questions about the future of privacy, openness and innovation online.” Even legitimate uses of the technology could fall victim to “mission creep” and be misused by government or broadband providers, Harris said. Network Neutrality legislation would be a good complement to privacy legislation, she suggested.

Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott noted that scenarios that were only hypothetical during past network neutrality debates were now becoming proposed business models thanks to DPI technologies being marketed by several vendors. And DPI technology “has evolved from innocuous…to potentially insidious,” he said, calling for a “bright line rule” on consumer protection.

NCTA CEO Kyle McSlarrow said that no cable internet service provider is currently using DPI for behavioral targeting. “Good privacy protection is also good business,” he said. DPI has been used legitimately by cable ISPs “for many years now — and for many good reasons,” including spam deterrence, McSlarrow said.

Cable ISPs are not doing any tracking, he said, objecting to the term “Deep Packet Inspection” and the alarm that often accompanies it. “The only tracking I want to do is to track down the engineer who came up with the term ‘deep packet inspection’…and shoot him.”

As the FCC develops a national broadband strategy, how its four principles of network neutrality are incorporated into any regulatory will come down to behavior, Scott said in an interview.

The FCC’s principles are a good starting point, but they aren’t enough when companies violate consumer privacy for commercial purposes, he said. Applying common carrier principles to broadband providers through privacy law would provide a critical fifth point, he said.

But in a separate interview, Boucher disagreed with Scott’s analogy. Boucher said as he moves forward with privacy legislation and oversight of telecommunications regulation – including the $7.25 billion broadband stimulus, network openness and consumer privacy will be treated as “separate and distinct issues.”

Legislators See 'Underserved' Definition as First Step for Broadband Stimulus

in Broadband Stimulus/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2009 – Proper oversight of the $7.2 billion Broadband Technology Opportunities Program can only take place if key terms are defined properly, a panel of agency officials and policy experts told a congressional committee on Thursday.

The broadband stimulus programs can succeed only if the eventual definition of “unserved areas” is “sensible,” said Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.

Boucher is concerned that areas that have a “smattering” of broadband service might be excluded from the definition of “unserved” areas. Agencies must also exercise care when defining what constitutes an “underserved” area in order to maximize market competition, Boucher said.

“Uunderserved” should also encompass areas with low available speeds, Boucher said.

But Boucher cautioned that the stimulus program should not be confused with a national broadband strategy, which the Federal Communications Commission is tasked with designing. The FCC is scheduled to take up the task at its April 8 meeting.

Such a strategy could include expanding universal service fund support to include broadband, he said, and indicated his subcommittee would continue to be “actively involved in looking at ways to achieve universal broadband deployment.”

Ranking member Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said that focusing first only on unserved areas would prevent “another wasteful government program,” and worried that distributing funds without a national broadband map in place would lead to a “ready, fire, aim” approach that would only encourage waste, fraud and abuse.

Stearns suggested first distributing funds to states that have already begun mapping efforts. “It’s common sense that we should know where to best spend the money before the money is actually spent,” he said.

But full committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., disagreed with Stearns’ “re-characterization” of the stimulus bill’s requirements.

Waxman noted that the committee had rejected an amendment codifying Stearns’ presumption of priorities into law when it considered the bill in February.” I expect that NTIA will not be distracted by these efforts,” Waxman said.

Developing definitions and a national broadband plan is the FCC’s “most important responsibility since implementing the 1996 Telecom Act,” said Scott Deutchman, acting senior legal advisor to acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps.

But the most important task in developing the plan will be to make sure broadband is available to all Americans, “whether you are rich or poor, live in a rural or urban area or on tribal lands, have a disability, are a small business, are a senior citizen or a high school student,” Deutchman said.

California Public Utility Commissioner Rachelle Chong agreed that mapping should be a prerequisite for receiving broadband grants. Chong noted that California’s program mandated that carriers provide mapping entities with “granular” data down to the street address level. Public-private partnerships could be a successful vehicle for mapping, but only if conducted through a trusted, neutral third party, Chong said.

Such partnerships can be successful in stimulating the “demand side” of the broadband economy, said One Economy Corporation Vice President Nicol Turner-Lee – but only if they are “intentional” in creating a “culture of use” among low-income communities that have the lowest adoption rates for broadband services in the nation.

“If the allocation of broadband stimulus funding does not make a considerable difference among this demographic, we have failed,” said Turner-Lee.

Also testifying during the hearing were Jonathan Large, Dan River District Supervisor in Ararat, Virginia; Brian Mefford, CEO of Connected Nation; Mark Seifert, senior policy advisor, National Telecommunications and Information Administration; and David Villano, assistant administrator of telecom programs at the Agriculture Department.


Congress, Industry Execs Agree on Broadband in Revamped Universal Service Fund

in Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2009 – The Obama administration’s priority in broadband deployment injected an undercurrent of excitement into a Thursday hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, the Internet.

While the hearing was scheduled to be focused on reforming the universal service fund high-cost program, both members and witness spent much of the hearing debating how best to use the fund to deploy broadband internet access to all Americans.

“Broadband has emerged as a critical part of our telecommunications infrastructure,” said Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va. “New funding sources must be tapped” in order to bring access to unserved areas, he said.

“Broadband is to communications today what electricity and telephone service were 100 years ago,” Boucher said. And while he acknowledged the impact of $7.2 billion in stimulus funding for broadband was a subject for debate, Boucher reiterated his view that broadband is “clearly deserving…of universal service fund support.”

But Ranking Member Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said the stimulus plans made expansion of the fund irrelevant. Instead of expanding the USF, Stearns suggested examining the successes and failures of the stimulus program while it is implemented.

Congress should focus efforts on reducing waste and fraud in current USF programs and adding a cap prevent more “uncontrolled growth” of the fund, Stearns said.

“Throwing money at this crumbling program makes no sense,” he said. Instead of more subsides, Stearns suggested using “market-based, technology-neutral systems” to encourage broadband deployment.

Industry leaders were in agreement on Boucher’s plan for expanding the USF to include broadband service. “The core principle of competitive telecommunications for every American remains an important and worthy goal,” said U.S. Cellular Chairman LeRoy Carlson. “[T]he proper role of [the USF] must be to ensure that [rural] areas have modern, high quality telecommunications infrastructure” that is both feature and price comparable with their urban and suburban counterparts, he said.”

Broadband and mobile wireless services are two ‘must-have’ functionalities consumers expect and demand for home and business, Carlson declared,” whether they live in urban or rural areas. “I believe a reformed program can effectively…address those problems, and if tailored correctly, can even be complimented by leveraging the [broadband stimulus funds],” he said.

“A central goal of this program must be to provide rural citizens with access to high quality mobile voice and broadband services, everywhere that people live, work and travel,” said Carlson.

Verizon executive vice president Tom Tauke told the subcommittee he believes that consumers, industry and policymakers agree that modern and affordable communications services are “a prerequisite for economic growth, and an essential platform to address major social challenges.”

But the high-cost fund “remains focused on yesteryear’s technology,” Tauke said. “Attempts to fit new technologies into a telecom framework.” This process has not allowed the fund to meet its “fundamental objective: providing universal service.”

Qwest Communications Executive Vice President Robert Davis agreed for the need to reform the fund to allow for new technologies. “The grants for broadband deployment that will be provided by the [stimulus program] are a start,” he said, “but no one believes that this money will result in ubiquitous deployment of [broadband] to currently underserved areas.” There remains a crucial role for universal service funding,” David declared.

Adopting broadband as part of universal service would also resolve questions on how to stop what some lawmakers described as “runaway” increases in USF fees. AT&T vice president Joel Lubin suggested that moving from charging consumers based on a portion of their bill to a per-number charge.

While Lubin acknowledged revenues paid into the fund from telephone network access charges might temporarily decrease under such a plan, he predicted that the drop would be inevitable as more Americans move to voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services.

The increasing number of phone numbers used by consumers in next-generation technologies such as mobile phones, VoIP lines, and multi-line business systems would more than make up for the temporary drop, Lubin said.

“Broadband is a disruptive technology that redefines the game,” Lubin said. “Local calling areas are now the whole world.” A broadband based USF program would eliminate access charges while providing “more capability, without the complexity of old narrowband pipes”

Free Press research director Derek Turner noted both “critics and defenders of the high-cost fund all agree that broadband is the essential communications infrastructure of the 21st Century.” When USF was created in 1996, “internet access was an application that used telephony as an infrastructure,” he said.

By contrast, Turner said in today’s world, “telephony is one of the many applications that are supported by broadband infrastructure.” And while the FCC can take steps to modernize the USF regulatory structure, Turner emphasized that “meaningful and lasting reform” can come only from congressional action. “Achieving this goal…will require the complete upending of the status quo and direct confrontation of difficult and politically challenging choices,” he said.

When Boucher asked the panel if the law should explicitly allow USF to cover broadband, there was no disagreement that the 1996 Telecommunications Act should be changed to allow USF funding to explicitly cover broadband services.

But there was some disagreement over whether a “USF 2.0,” as one witness put it, should be limited to wireline services only. While Davis said a program should be “technology neutral” once speed and price targets had been determined, Carlson said that both were equally important – and that wireline and wireless could be subjected to different speed requirements.

And while Turner acknowledged wireless could have a role in reducing costs, he wasn’t convinced. “I’m not sure if checking Facebook while driving at 70 miles per hour is [needed in USF programs]. But Tauke pointed out that fixed and mobile wireless have different use cases and potentials. Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., agreed, calling the two technologies “a different ballgame.”

The Federal Communications Commission is currently accepting comments on a proposal to expand the USF-funded Life Line and Link Up programs to include broadband services. In response to a question from Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., Tauke said he didn’t support the proposal in its current form.

Tauke later said in an interview that Verizon believes it is important for all Americans to have access to broadband and that USF should be included, but he could not offer specific alternatives to the Life Line/Link Up proposal except to suggest the program be technology-neutral.

And while AT&T’s Lubin was wary of subsidizing access devices, he agreed that the choice of wired or wireline service, even under Life Line/Link Up, should be “in the mind of the consumer.”

The Life Line/Link Up proposal was endorsed by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners at its winter 2009 meeting last month.

NebuAd Chairman Says Company 'Satisfied' With 'Opt-in' Privacy Proposals

in Broadband's Impact by

By William G. Korver, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, July 17 – With other panelists calling for comprehensive privacy legislation, NebuAd’s CEO told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Thursday that the internet advertising company would be “satisfied” if an “opt-in” rule became mandatory.

During the a hearing on “What Your Broadband Provider Knows About Your Web Use: Deep Packet Inspection and Communications Laws and Policies,” before the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Chairman Ed Markey, D-Mass., said that most of subcommittee members favored an opt-in approach.

Under an opt-in rule, internet consumers would have to consent before personal information could be shared. Current law more closely replicates an “opt-out” model, with consumers required to affirmatively object to data-sharing by businesses.

Markey said that most Americans do not believe than the implied consent of the opt-out model should be the nation’s privacy standard.

In other words, under Markey’s approach (and that of a majority of the subcommittee), if a consumer did not give explicit consent, NebuAd would not be able to monitor a consumer’s web habits.

NebuAd’s business model gleans information from broadband carriers who are customers of NebuAd without prior consent of either the consumers or the owners of web sites that the internet consumers visit.

Charter Communications, for example, was considering using NebuAd.

David Reed, a professor in the Media Lab at MIT and a developer of the Internet in the 1970s, said that NebuAd’s actions are like a mailman opening and reading the contents of the mail before it is delivered.

Prompted to dismiss the analogy by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., NebuAd Chairman and CEO Robert Dykes did so: the post office is a government-owned enterprise, while NebuAd is a private company.

UPS and FedEx are also private companies, yet the public does not expected them to engage in such activities, countered Markey.

Attempting to calm fears, Dykes reiterated his position over the past several weeks: NebuAd has and will continue to provide “robust” notice to users and allow a user to op-out of information-sharing with NebuAd.

When a user selects to opt-out, NebuAd immediately deletes the information that it has stored on the individual and ceases to monitor the individual, said Dykes.

He said NebuAd only surveys categories like travel and automotives and maps these categories against de-identified user profiles. The Center for Democracy and Technology and other privacy groups claim that NebuAd’s model is pseudononymous, not anonymous.

Alissa Cooper, CDT’s chief computer scientist, said her group had “warned that that consumers are increasingly concerned about the growing amount of personal data being collected by online advertising practices,” and urged the passage of comprehensive privacy legislation.

In his testimony, Dykes said that officials from his company met earlier this week to discuss privacy issues with CDT. He said that “self-policing” in the advertising world has worked.

Dykes also committed to a privacy audit of the company’s practices.

Attempting to steer privacy oversight to search engine giant Google, Scott Cleland, president of Precursor, a consultancy engaged in advocacy against network neutrality, blasted the company as “the worst privacy offender on the Internet” and engaging in “unauthorized web service surveillance.” He got a laugh out of his description of the company as “J. Edgar Google.”

Information about web clicks are a true treasure trove about sensitive personal data, he said. As a result, Congress should pay more attention to Google’s privacy practices than those of broadband providers, Cleland said.

Also testifying against NebuAd’s practices was Bijan Sabet, general partner for Spark Capital. Although such “deep packet inspection” is a milestone in technological innovation, Sabet counseled the members of the subcommittee that the practice threatens the openness of the Internet. He also championed Net neutrality.

Rep. Cliff Sterns Decries Net Neutrality Rules

in Net Neutrality by

WASHINGTON, June 12 – Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., decried the move to impose Network Neutrality on broadband carriers, speaking at a keynote luncheon address at the Broadband Policy Summit IV here.

Restrictions on the ability of carriers to design the rules whereby data flows over their networks are a bad idea, Stearns said.

He was particularly critical of a bill, the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act,” H.R. 5353, introduced by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

First, “it gives the [Federal Communications Commission a green light to engage in regulation without congressional oversight.” Second, “it doesn’t allow for legitimate network management,” he said.

In response to a question about how the push for legislation — in 2006 — that would allow the Bell companies to offer television services nationwide, without obtaining county-by-county franchises, Stearns said the he did not think the bill could be revived this Congress.

“How do you get video franchising through without attaching Net Neutrality?” Stearns pondered. “I would suspect that at this point, it is not going to happen. Anytime that you hold up something that significant, you stop the investment” by telecommunications carriers.

Still, Stearns said he would have his staff counsel look into creating such a bill this Congress.

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