Apparently, the assault on individuals’ privacy last March was not sufficient to satisfy Internet Service Providers' voracious appetite for profit. Big Telecom now has its eyes fixed on taking the wrecking ball to the state level as well. Verizon is leading the charge. It filed a white paper last week with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) bemoaning states' privacy regulations. Verizon explained that is miffed with the myriad hoops it must jump through due to states not having consistent privacy regulations:
"State and local laws governing broadband Internet access service pose a real and significant threat to restoring a light-touch, uniform regulatory framework for broadband service."
Granted, uniform regulations would be optimal. However, the irony in Verizon's request is delicious. There was a time when there was some semblance of equivalence in the regulations. Then, last spring, the Republican-led Congress (probably at the behest of its leader, President Trump), changed all that. Verizon commented,
"Allowing every State and locality to chart its own course for regulating broadband is a recipe for disaster. It would impose localized and likely inconsistent burdens on an inherently interstate service, would drive up costs, and would frustrate federal efforts to encourage investment and deployment by restoring the free market that long characterized Internet access service."
As a result, if Verizon, Comcast and the rest have their way, your heretofore private information would be available to the highest bidding advertiser. This includes financial information, Social Security, medical data, and even your browsing history and online chats. Craig Aaron, CEO of the Free Press Action Fund, observes,
"They voted to take away the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of Americans just so a few giant companies could pad their already considerable profits."
Elected officials are always great at spinning negative news stories to piggyback on disasters. This FCC is the same. It commented,
"We... believe that pre-empting state or local laws that inhibit the restoration of communications infrastructure will help to facilitate swifter and more effective recoveries from natural disasters such as hurricanes."
Talk about co-opting a tragedy!
Politicians are also famous for flip-flopping on issues. However, this administration has raised it to an art form. Consider for a moment FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s comments of two years ago regarding the FCC’s power to make the states bend to its will (as it now is threatening with Verizon’s request):
"The FCC simply does not have the power to do this… The FCC [would] usurp fundamental aspects of state sovereignty. And it disrupts the balance of power between the federal government and state governments that lies at the core of our constitutional system of government."
Pai’s apparent flip-flop aside, it is ironic that the GOP party, which has long prided itself on minimizing federal interference in commerce and maximizing states’ rights, would stoop to destroying individual states' rights now. Why the obvious backtracking on established and cherished core party beliefs? The answer is simply, money. What goes hand in hand with politics and politicians more than money?
Let’s look at just one example. If I were to ask you what is the most out-there, left-liberal state in the US, I bet most people would mention California. Surely, if any state would stand for privacy rights it would be this state. Yet when a bill came up for passage on privacy rights this past year in defiance of the FCC… it failed to pass! I was astonished until I delved deeper into the story. The California bill died in the state legislature because Verizon complained that opting out would burden companies and thus impair customer service. And they turned their lobbyists loose to open their wallets.
California is now considering a ballot proposal to do what craven politicians were afraid to do. Many states may be added to the list of those which already have separate privacy regulations. However, it may all be for naught if Big Telecom holds sway in its current appeal, with yet another assault on privacy.
Opinions are the writer's own.