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Privacy Concerns

Industry Seeks to Leverage Broadband Consumer Labels in ACP Data Collection

Industry groups asked the FCC to streamline its rules for its annual data collection of subscription rates and plans offered through the affordable connectivity program (ACP). Some said the FCC should rely on the forthcoming broadband consumer labels and raised privacy concerns if data is collected at the subscriber level in comments posted Tuesday in docket 21-450.

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The FCC should establish rules requiring “information that Congress specifically required,” which didn’t authorize the commission to collect subscriber-level data, said CTIA. Data collection at the subscriber level would "impose significant burdens ... could raise privacy concerns for consumers, and could delay timely publication of important program data," the group said, suggesting information be aggregated at the state level. USTelecom agreed and said data should be reported annually "during a set filing window" to "track trends and draw meaningful conclusions while safeguarding individual privacy interests."

Requiring ACP providers to report subscriber-level data on an ongoing basis "poses an unnecessary threat to the privacy of ACP customers and creates additional barriers to enrollment for vulnerable, historically marginalized populations who may already distrust government programs," said NCTA. It would “likely implicate the privacy protections in the Cable Act and trigger new notice and consent requirements,” the group said.

The Connecticut Office of State Broadband backed collecting aggregated data at the ZIP code and county level to help understand "where the greater need is for affordable broadband" as states prepare to implement NTIA's broadband, equity, access, and deployment program. The New York Department of Public Service asked the FCC to make the data publicly available, "including any subscriber-level data," to help states "target support from their own broadband deployment and adoption efforts."

The FCC could "leverage the broadband consumer labels currently under development," said Altice: That would “alleviate the need to create a new regulatory mandate and procedure for collecting the same information." Don't require ISPs to report data on grandfathered plans and those no longer offered because they aren't offered to prospective ACP subscribers, it said. T-Mobile agreed: Congress "directed the commission to rely on the broadband consumer labels" to collect pricing information and "avoid another duplicative, burdensome collection."

Don't require providers to report their churn rate because it's "closely guarded, competitively sensitive information,” said the Wireless ISP Association. WISPA backed the proposal to modify the national Lifeline accountability database (NLAD) to add additional reporting lines, noting any data required through the broadband data collection process or consumer broadband labels shouldn't be collected again.

Requiring information on providers' take rates would "be extremely onerous and beyond the scope of Congress's mandate," said the National Lifeline Association. NaLa backed requiring ACP providers to report how households qualified for the benefit if they enrolled through an "FCC-approved alternative verification process." The commission "should rely on NLAD to automate the collection and reporting process" if it decides to require subscriber-level data.

It's "not necessary" to collect information about latency and packet loss because they aren't "relevant to consumers in distinguishing among plans, and providers are less likely to emphasize these characteristics in marketing their offerings," said ACA Connects. Let participating providers report the "non-promotional rate" for any ACP offerings without data on taxes and governmental fees, the group said. NTCA said the data collection should be "tightly focused" to "limit the burden on small operators and ... ensure that it elicits a true picture of the adoptions gains the ACP has enabled."

The FCC could collect standard and promotional rates to "better understand how ACP households experience these price fluctuations" and "identify opportunities for households to remain online while simultaneously avoiding an unexpected co-pay," said the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. NDIA backed collecting pricing data beyond what will be required through the broadband consumer labels. Common Sense and Public Knowledge said in joint comments that collecting "relevant demographic data" would "help understand the ACP's impact on digital equity and support efforts to address digital discrimination."