Feds may finally do something to protect your company online

Businesses need guidelines, protection on privacy, access, bandwidth

Federal "watchdogs" at the FCC and FTC appear ready to seem to do something about the issues that would be at the top of the agenda for any agency responsible for protecting consumers and businesses online -- the need for consistent national privacy rules, and the need to extend both wireless and wired broadband nationwide.

They intend to hold hearings

Actually that's not fair. Hearings would have a lot more impact.

The FCC did approve a fund to support mobile broadband, at a cost of between $100 million and $300 million. (Having that big a margin of error would take the pressure off a lot of IT project managers; I wonder if the FCC offers classes.)

The FTC proposed a privacy plan apparently based on the assumption that companies and dirtbags intent on invading individual privacy would cooperate with a do-not-track list based on cookies in a user's browser.

The FCC will also finally take up the issue of net neutrality next month, while inviting public comment on plans to roll out wired broadband nationwide.

Those are all clearly consumer issues that you probably care about in your personal life, especially if you live in areas where broadband is hard to come by or really understand how much of your private information gets sucked up and misused every time you go online.

So why should you care, at least when you're at work?

Because inaction by the FCC and FTC has not only left consumers vulnerable, it has left companies in legal limbo on some issues and at a technological disadvantage in others.

On privacy issues, most companies want to be able to use customer data without ticking off their actual customers; the lack of good rulings and guidelines makes that difficult to do without either ignoring some useful information, or having customers accuse them of prying by collecting too much.

Inadequate broadband-expansion programs leave customers, just as much as consumers, vulnerable to bandwidth throttling and unfair provisioning in their own broadband connections, and made it more difficult to both reach customers and extend their own Internet-based internal connections by not requiring a steady improvement in the digital infrastructure.

Both agencies are supposed to protect consumers, though neither has done a good job online. They're just as responsible for protecting companies against the predation of carriers and other digital providers.

By avoiding any real action, they've left your company vulnerable and left you open to exploitation both at home and at work.

It's time they did something about it.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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