This story ran in the May 10, 2017 Concord Monitor: Internet providers in New Hampshire would have to alert customers before selling information about their online practices under a proposal that seeks to replicate at the state level internet privacy regulations that were blocked by Congress last month.
The proposal – in the form of a “non-germane” amendment attached to a bill concerning leases – would require companies providing “broadband internet access service” to get customer permission before they “use, disclose, sell or permit access to customer personal information.”
The proposal received a mostly skeptical hearing Tuesday before the Senate Commerce Committee, which will vote later this month on whether to send it to the full Senate.
“Isn’t it better off to educate people about using the internet before we say that one entity can’t do this and another one can? … I want it to be private for everyone, not just one company but not another,” said Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua.
Lasky was one of a several senators on the committee who asked whether it was fair to target ISPs such as Verizon, Comcast and local telephone companies, which have a presence in New Hampshire, but not web firms like Google and Facebook that have no New Hampshire presence but still collect and sell personal information about our internet habits.
Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, a prime sponsor of the amendment, argued in his presentation that the question was a red herring put forward in part by ISPs, a number of which sent representatives to Tuesday’s hearing who testified against the amendment, because you can choose to avoid sites like Google but in most of New Hampshire have no choice about broadband internet providers.
“I would say (to ISPs), I guess you should have thought of that before you lobbied to get rid of federal rules,” Feltes commented.
The New Hampshire proposal was put forward in an amendment because it’s too late in the legislative session for a new bill to be filed.
It comes in response to the April decision by Congress, signed by President Trump, to revoke rules approved in 2015 that were set to go into effect this year. The rules would limit what broadband providers could do with customer information such as browsing habits, history of apps and location data.
Critics have decried this as giving ISPs license to sell customer data, but ISPs have said they don’t sell such information and that existing regulations under the Federal Trade Commission rules provide necessary protection.
Lobbyists for Verizon, Comcast, New Hampshire cable and cell phone firms, and a national group of communications and media companies called the State Privacy and Security Coalition argued against the amendment Tuesday.
Among their arguments is that creating new state-by-state regulations would be confusing to consumers and difficult for companies to implement – especially small ISPs like Dunbarton Telephone Co.
“Should they spend money deploying broadband or spend money trying to figure out how to comply with one law in New Hampshire and another law from the feds?” asked Terea Rosenberger, a lobbyist for the New Hampshire Telephone Association, which has Dunbarton Telephone among its members.
She and several others opponents argued that the matter is best left to the federal government, due to the national nature of internet service, and that ongoing discussions between the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission will clarify the matter.
“Are we being premature with the amendment?” asked Sen. Harold French, R-Franklin.
Feltes argued that the amendment fit into a New Hampshire tradition of protecting individual privacy rights even in the face of federal rules, an issue that came up in the long fight over whether the state would join the federal Real ID program for driver’s licenses.
“Is New Hampshire going to respond to the action of the federal government and stand up for our constituents’ privacy rights?” he said. “That’s the issue.”
Feltes was supported by Devon Chaffee, executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who also argued that New Hampshire has a tradition of “taking action where our federal government has failed.”
Opponents of the privacy regulations say they are a reflection of a dispute between the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission over who gets to regulate internet services – a dispute that includes ongoing disagreement over “net neutrality” rules that would forbid internet carriers from giving preference to one service over another.