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FCC Chairman Pai moves to block broadband privacy rules

The controversial rules passed under Obama's FCC establish stricter requirements for broadband and wireless companies than internet companies like Google or Facebook.

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FCC

New Federal Communications Commission's Chairman Ajit Pai is hitting the pause button on internet privacy regulations put in place during the Obama administration, which wireless and broadband companies have complained are unfair.

The rules, approved by the FCC in October, were supposed to protect consumers' sensitive personal information online. They have been controversial because they establish stricter requirements for broadband and wireless companies than they do for other internet companies, such as Google or Facebook, which also collect user information.

In January, several telecom and cable industry groups filed petitions challenging the rules, some of which go into effect on March 2.

In a statement issued Friday, an FCC spokesman said Pai has asked the two other commissioners to vote not to implement the rules that should go into effect on March 2. The rules will reportedly be temporarily stayed until the commission takes action. According to the spokesman, Pai believes the privacy rules should mirror those implemented by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which oversees privacy regulations for internet companies.

"Chairman Pai believes that the best way to protect the online privacy of American consumers is through a comprehensive and uniform regulatory framework," the spokesman said. "All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, and the federal government shouldn't favor one set of companies over another."

Under the data privacy rules, wireless and broadband companies are required to take "reasonable" steps to protect sensitive data. The rules were passed after the FCC gained authority under the new net neutrality rules to regulate broadband like the traditional telephone network. The FCC currently regulates privacy for phone networks. But conservatives, including Pai, oppose this reclassification.

Other parts of the rules, such as the provision that requires customers to opt in to allowing their personal information to be shared with marketers and others, have also not gone into effect. That rule is still being reviewed by the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

This is the latest move by the Republican-led FCC to kill controversial regulations pushed by former Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler. Pai has already closed consideration of rules to reform the cable set-top box market. He also reversed several other consumer-protection orders, reports, and proceedings that were adopted in the final weeks of Wheeler's FCC. This included telling nine companies they won't be allowed to participate in the federal Lifeline program. Lifeline is meant to provide low-cost broadband access to low-income consumers. Pai said he was reversing these orders and reports because they were done at the last minute by an administration that was leaving.

And he's already begun to take steps to dismantle net neutrality. At the FCC's open meeting on Thursday, he led the vote to expand the number of companies to get exemptions to parts of the net neutrality rules.

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