After AT&T's crushing blow, FTC tells Senate it wants its balls back

US watchdog still feeling sore after being stripped of powers to punish telcos


US trade watchdog the FTC says it will appeal the August decision stripping its ability to fine AT&T.

In a hearing before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation this week, FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez confirmed her agency will challenge the Ninth Circuit Court's ruling that corporations that deliver a common carrier service – such as phone companies and ISPs – do not fall under the jurisdiction of the FTC in any areas.

The ruling overturned a $100m fine brought against AT&T by the FTC after the telco throttled subscribers' broadband without warning.

More importantly, Ramirez argues, it established a blind spot in federal law, putting internet providers where neither the FTC nor the FCC can reach.

"For example, the AT&T decision could prevent the FTC from bringing 'cramming' cases against telephone companies and could have other farther-reaching effects as well on FTC programs ranging from Do Not Call to COPPA," Ramirez told (PDF) the Senate panel.

"The FCC’s authority over common carriers is limited to the provision of services for or in connection with common carriage. If common carriers are providing non-common carrier products or services, one outcome might be that neither the FCC nor the FTC would have jurisdiction to respond to practices that harm consumers."

Additionally, Ramirez argues, the common carrier exemption could allow tech giants such as Google and Microsoft to operate their services without any accountability in regards to user privacy and the protection of consumer data, thanks to the FCC's reclassification of internet service as common carrier.

Ramirez believes that the solution to this problem would be to remove the exemption and allow the FTC to file cases against those companies unfettered by jurisdiction worries.

"This carve-out originated in an era when telecommunications services were provided by highly-regulated monopolies," Ramirez argued.

"The exception no longer makes sense in today’s deregulated environment where the lines between telecommunications and other services are increasingly becoming blurred, such as when telecommunications companies are buying edge providers and consumers increasingly communicate over online social networks instead of landlines." ®

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