Comcast Funds Civil Rights Groups That Rallied Against New FCC Rules

Congress voted to repeal the internet privacy rules last week.

Comcast Center | Jeff Fusco

Comcast Center | Jeff Fusco

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives followed the Senate and voted to overturn new FCC rules that would have required Internet service providers like Comcast to get customers’ permission before selling their online browsing data.

Supporters of the repeal have stated that regulators failed to listen to objections from the “Internet community” when the new rules were created under the Obama administration. But a report from The Intercept reveals that many of the objections in the Internet community are coming from civil-rights groups with “extensive financial ties” to telecomm companies like Comcast. And their objections to the FCC rules seem absurd and unrelated to their core missions, The Intercept points out.

Two such civil rights groups funded by Comcast are the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the non-profit OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates. The two organizations wrote a letter to the FCC, urging then-commissioner Tom Wheeler to reconsider the new rules. One reason provided in the letter is that the rules would deprive consumers of access to “new, innovative, and convenient products, services, and features” that they get through advertising. They also wrote that “Many consumers, especially those households with limited incomes, appreciate receiving relevant advertising that is keyed to their interests and provides them with discounts on the products and services they use.”

But the FCC regulations would have actually allowed ISPs to sell their customers’ browsing data for such target advertising if users gave them explicit permission. They would also be notified of how their browsing data was being used. The letter states that the FCC’s umbrella of “sensitive data” should be limited only to information about location, children’s data, social security numbers, and other information about health and finances. All other information is fair game.

Comcast and Verizon are listed as business advisory council members to the OCA and sponsored the organization’s gala in 2016. Comcast along with other ISPs like AT&T, Charter, and Verizon are a part of the League of United Latin American Citizens’ “corporate alliance,” which provides advice and assistance according to the group. The New York Times reported that Comcast gave the organization $260,000 between 2004 and 2012.

The Intercept says neither OCA nor LULAC immediately responded when asked if contributions from ISPs influenced their decision to engage on the privacy rule. Comcast did not respond to request for comment on the FCC regulations from Philadelphia magazine.

“It is terrifying that our elected representatives just gave Comcast, Verizon, and other major ISPs a windfall – at massive cost to their own constituents. Here in the poorest big city in the United States, the revocation of these rules means all bets are off,” said Hannah Jane Sassaman of Philly’s Media Mobilizing Project, which has rallied in opposition to the bill. “It means that poor people’s identities, dreams, and organizing can be mined for profit for the highest bidding advertiser.”

Others have recognized that Comcast and other broadband providers have also ramped up their lobbying efforts against the FCC rules and are in a position to benefit from further deregulation.

Moving forward, President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

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