Maureen Ohlhausen, one of the two Republican commissioners on the five-member FTC, also argued that the FTC is a better privacy regulator than the FCC. "The FTC has had a very good track record in this space," she said. "And I'm concerned about that being put at risk."
Both FTC officials urged Congress to step in to restore their agency's authority over broadband. But that's not likely to be a popular idea with congressional Republicans unless it comes with a repeal of the FCC's net neutrality rules.
The FTC polices "unfair" and "deceptive" business practices across an array of industries. One of the limits on its authority is that it can't go after "common carriers" (essentially, companies that are treated like public utilities).
Last month, the FCC voted to classify Internet providers as common carriers in order to enact strong net neutrality rules. The agency is claiming more authority for itself, but at the expense of the FTC.
The FTC still can take action against online services such as Facebook or Google, but it won't be able to do anything if Internet providers sell their customers' private information to the highest bidder or otherwise invade their privacy.
To fill in the gap left by gutting the FTC's authority over the broadband industry, the FCC is giving itself broader privacy powers. The FCC has long had privacy rules for landline telephone companies (which were already considered common carriers), and is expanding that oversight to Internet providers.
Mark Wigfield, an FCC spokesman, said the commission may take further action to clarify how the privacy rules apply to Internet providers. Many of the rules include references that only make sense for the telephone industry, such as how providers have to manage phone numbers and call records.
"We will continue to work closely with the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and partners in the states on privacy issues," Wigfield said.
Laura Moy, a senior policy counsel for the the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, argued that the switch in regulators will mean stronger privacy protections for consumers. The FCC's regulations are "some of the strongest federal privacy protections that we have on the books," she said
The rules will limit how broadband providers can handle their customers' billing information (such as names and addresses) as well as their Web browsing history. Moy pointed to a recent controversy over Verizon's practice of tracking its customers' mobile Internet activity against their wishes as an illustration of why the FCC should get more involved in privacy protection.