Yet another US government agency wants to collect personal subscriber data - this time to improve rural connectivity.
This time it is the venerable US regulator, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), that, is seeking to compel telcos with more than 100,000 subscribers to collect and archive personal subscriber information. The FCC wants access to subscriber metadata including individual phone numbers, dates and times of calls, and, most significantly, detailed and specific routing information.
The FCC says that this is because it intends to do something about rural telephony in the US - and not before time. Trying to make (or take) a call in the US boondocks can be a miserable and salutary experience as aged infrastructure combines with a pervading 'couldn't care less' attitude to customer service of the sort that 30 years ago, as the US media used to love to point out, used to pertain in France, the UK, Russia and other parts of Europe.
(Not that the mobile experience in Silicon Valley is that much better today - at least as far as T-Mobile is concerned and as I found out to my cost and aggravation recently - but that's another story for another time)
So, the FCC is to bring its weight to bear to solving the problem of "rural call completion." This is a euphemism for the dismal service that pertains in some remote (and not so remote) parts of the US where calls routinely either get dropped (time after time) or fail to make it through altogether (pretty much like T-Mobile service in Northern California then).
According to the regulator, rural calls accounts for less than ten per cent of all calls made nationally in the US but, for the minority making/taking those calls in Smallville, life is a constant telephonic lottery. (pretty much like being a T-Mobile customer in Northern California then?).
The FCC says the problems are so pervasive because rural telcos can charge phone companies in areas with higher subscriber densities more money to connect long-distance calls. Thus the telcos have a financial incentive to use cut-rate intermediaries to 'help' the call completion at rock-bottom fee rates. The resul? More money for the operators (or at least lower expenses, which amounts to the same thing) and a rotten experience for put-upon subscribers who, in most cases cannot take their custom elsewhere to a rival service provider because there isn't one.
The FCC says that by analysing the compulsorily-acquired call metadata it will be able to isolate, identify, 'name and shame' and discipline greedy miscreants.
The agency is also at pains to point out that its requirement to be able to access to aggregated private customer information is highly targeted and non-intrusive - and hedged-around with the latest privacy protection technology. But then the FBI used to say that.
Well, no doubt it is protected but that doesn't mean other agencies won't try to get their hands on the data for their own more opaque and rather different purposes. As the Juvenal delinquent had it, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"