Supremes: AT&T Can't Use 'Personal Privacy' To Hide USF Data [Broadband Reports]
In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that AT&T can not claim a privacy exemption on data collected by the FCC regarding the company's participation in the E-Rate program. The program, which is funded by the Universal Service Fund, is designed to provide subsidies to connect schools and libraries to broadband. Ma Bell had fought a court battle to keep its billing records under E-Rate exempt from the Freedom of Information Act under a protection for "personal privacy" in the law.
The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that AT&T's arguements were without merit. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the court's opinion, which stated in part, "When it comes to the word ‘personal,’ there is little support for the notion that it denotes corporations, even in the legal context.” And in a bit of wit that indicates that even Supreme Court justices are not without a sense of humor, Roberts wrote, "We trust AT&T will not take it personally."
This ruling is a win for consumers. In 2004, AT&T settled a FCC investigation into its overbilling under E-Rate. This ruling ensures there will be transparency in their E-Rate billing practices going forward, meaning that USF funds are being used for their designated purpose - providing teachers and students broadband and not simply lining AT&T's pockets.