The Approach of Internet Regulation [and the End of the World as We Know It]


The March 2 Communications Summit, put on by the Institute for Policy Innovation, presented some diverse and compelling perspectives on key issues in the Communications industry, particularly relating to government regulation. While I’d expect an anti-regulation stance from the sponsor, they did a credible job of civilly presenting a variety of perspectives in a town known of late for less than civil discourse. 

‘Communications’ in this context means what most of the world now refers to as ‘ICT’ – Information and Communications Technology – but many in the US still think of as ‘telecomm’.  Communications includes the ecosystem of internet-centric businesses, hardware vendors, software vendors, networks, content providers, and the data-gathering and advertising machinery that pervades much of the online world.

Given the aggregation of mountains of personal data about all of us who dwell online, the implications of such data moving freely around the world in nanoseconds, and the increasing incidence of taking content without paying for it [music, movies, etc.], regulation is coming—soon.

Keynote speaker Rick Boucher, Former Chairman of the House Commerce Communications Subcommittee and co-author of draft legislation on internet regulation, prefaced his remarks by stating that net neutrality as an issue is dead. The Senate and President Obama are not going to allow any overturn or spend any more time on it. So, he advocates focusing on what’s feasible at this point.

He predicts real action by Congress, perhaps in as little as a year, on extending privacy rights to internet users. This could include mandating ‘do not track’ options on web sites, providing ‘opt in ‘or ‘opt out’ options for data collection, compelling full disclosure of how your gathered data is collected and used, and variations thereof for certain kinds of data—social security numbers, passport numbers, geo-location info, etc. Boucher likened this movement to other major privacy protection legislation of recent times such as HIPAA and Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

It’s a complex issue that’s going to require hard-wired technical adjustment as well as changes to business practices. The implications for advertisers and aggregators are obvious, but these changes will also extend to other aspects of marketing and communications. Lest corporations fear too much, Boucher also predicts that if/when this is legislated, grievance handling would be managed by the FCC and NOT by allowing individuals to sue companies for a potential breach of their privacy. I suppose I could live with that.

As another of the Summit’s speakers put it, transformational change is when the technology is so pervasive you no longer notice it [like fish not noticing the ocean]. The ever-connected Millenials are certainly there. If privacy concerns prove enough to get even this contentious Congress to agree and act, you can bet the times are a-changing.

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