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News Roundup, August 24: Location Privacy Act, AT&T Blocks FaceTime, and the FCC on Broadband Progress

Published:  August 24, 2012
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Photo by cmbjn843, licensed Creative Commons.

Welcome to our weekly series, highlighting the most newsworthy events under the Open Technology Initiative’s three key areas: Privacy and Security, Freedom of Expression, and Telecom Policy. Contact us with story ideas at blog@opentechinstitute.org.

Privacy and Security: Location Privacy Act approved by California state legislature

Earlier this week, California’s state legislature passed the Location Privacy Act of 2012, which prohibits tracking a user’s location or GPS data without a warrant. The act passed with support from both parties, but has yet to be approved by Governor Brown. The EFF, one of the act’s sponsors, notes that Governor Brown vetoed a similar bill last year. Wired reports that the act includes several exceptions in cases of emergencies or time sensitive situations (for example, in the case of kidnapping).

Consumer rights groups have applauded the bill, noting that it fills a gaping legal void. Presently, mobile privacy for consumers is protected by dated laws that were passed before the widespread use of mobile phones.

Read more about California’s Location Privacy Act.

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Freedom of Expression: Despite backlash, AT&T continues to block FaceTime on most data plans

Despite waves of backlash from consumers, peer companies, and public interest groups, AT&T is blocking FaceTime, an iPhone video chat application, for all users who aren’t subscribed to its new, shared data plans. The FCC's Open Internet rules prohibit service providers from  “block[ing] applications that compete with the provider's voice or video telephony services,” but AT&T Senior Vice President Bob Quinn claims that these rules only apply to apps downloaded by consumers and do not regulate the availability to customers of applications that are preloaded on phones.”  

Industry experts and advocacy groups disagree strongly, insisting that AT&T’s argument has no legal basis. S. Derek Turner, research director for Free Press noted that “the FCC’s rules are crystal clear: AT&T is not permitted to block voice or video telephony applications that compete with its own services. There is simply nothing in the rules that distinguishes ‘preloaded’ applications from ‘downloaded’ applications.”

Read more about AT&T’s decision to block FaceTime.

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Telecom Policy: FCC's new Broadband Progress Report details 19 million Americans lack broadband access

The FCC recently released its Eighth Broadband Progress Report, in which it reported that although the nation “has made significant progress expanding high-speed Internet access in recent years,” there are still about 19 million Americans who lack access to broadband. Access is especially limited in rural and tribal areas, where twenty-five to thirty-three percent of the population lacks connectivity. The report is mandated by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which measures whether or not broadband “is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

In addition to being limited by the availability of broadband, consumers were also deterred by high costs. As noted in a recent report by the Open Technology Institute, Americans consistently pay much higher prices for slow broadband speeds. Although several studies have found open access policies to be a driver in broadband deployment and competition, the FCC’s report did not include open access as a possible solution.

Read more about the FCC’s Progress Report.

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