Meanwhile, the FCC continued to take heat from congressional Republicans, who remain staunch in their opposition to the agency's 2010 net neutrality order, among other issues, including a still-open proceeding to reclassify broadband as a regulated telecommunications service. That proposal, initiated in the run-up to the 2010 rulemaking, was offered as a mechanism to shore up the FCC's legal authority over Internet service providers, and Chairman Julius Genachowski has insisted that it should remain open to gather comments from concerned parties. It also looms in the background as a federal court plans to consider a legal challenge from Verizon and MetroPCS seeking to overturn the net neutrality order.
In the final congressional oversight hearing of the year, lawmakers signaled that they have no plans to let up on the agency, grilling the five commissioners about their plans to write and implement the rules for the coming spectrum auctions, which the commission plans to begin in 2014.
Privacy remained a hot-button issue in 2012, though the bulk of the movement came away from Capitol Hill.
Early in the year, the White House and the Federal Trade Commission released outlines for strengthening online privacy protections, with the White House calling for a consumer bill of rights and the FTC urging the incorporation of do-not-track tools in Web browsers.
Those reports brought scrutiny from lawmakers, who questioned the impact of new rules for data collection and usage on the fast-growing online economy. Administration officials stressed that while they are supportive of a baseline privacy law, they are working with industry stakeholders to develop a meaningful self-regulatory framework through which Web companies and advertisers would sign on and adhere to voluntary codes of conduct.
In the meantime, the FTC and a division of the Commerce Department continued a series of workshops to explore various questions around privacy in the Internet age, and the FTC closed the year by issuing new rules for protecting children's privacy in the area of mobile apps.