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BLOG: Why The 9th Circuit’s Decision is a Big Deal for Consumers & the Open Internet


02.27.18

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a long-standing, accomplished history as our nation’s top consumer protection watchdog. Monday’s ruling from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court in FTC v. AT&T reaffirmed the FTC’s authority to police Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and protect the free and open internet. This decision is a win for consumers and the internet ecosystem – and it’s especially important as part of the conversation on net neutrality.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Restoring Internet Freedom Order reversed a 2015 Obama-administration decision to reclassify broadband internet service as a Title II common carrier service. Title II not only imposed heavy-handed regulations that hindered innovation and growth, it also stripped the FTC of its long-held authority with respect to ISPs.

As the Restoring Internet Freedom Order returns the FTC’s jurisdiction to police ISPs, including their privacy practices and anticompetitive behaviors, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling fully demonstrates the FTC’s power under the restored Title I internet service classification. When special interests and outside activists raise panic that rolling back “net neutrality” allows companies to freely block, throttle, and harm consumers, it’s important to point to the FTC’s reaffirmed authority over both ISPs and tech companies to ensure consumers are protected.

Many precedents exist that address the FTC’s power to take action against ISPs and tech companies when it comes to protecting consumer privacy and stopping anticompetitive behavior.

  • In 2015, TracFone, the country’s largest prepaid mobile phone provider, agreed to pay $40 million to the FTC to settle charges that it throttled ‘unlimited’ data plans without telling consumers. Affected consumers were then eligible for a refund.
  • In 2014, T-Mobile agreed to pay $90 million, including $67.5 million for customer refunds, to settle the FTC case that the service provider had included hidden charges in customer’s wireless bills.
  • In 2012, the FTC fined Google $22.5 million after the company violated a previous consent order with the commission promising not to place tracking cookies or targeted ads on users of Apple’s Safari web browser.
  • In 2011, Facebook settled charges with the FTC that it deceived consumers by failing to keep privacy promises. The settlement required Facebook to give consumers clear and prominent notice of changes to privacy settings, and ensure the company gets consumers’ consent before it changes the way it shares their data.

The FTC is, and will continue to be, the cop on the beat for protecting consumers online. The Energy and Commerce Committee, with its oversight of both the FTC and FCC, looks forward to engaging with the commissions and safeguarding the free and open internet.

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