ISPs push back on net neutrality proposals on Beacon Hill

For the Gazette
Published: 4/3/2018 10:18:05 PM

BOSTON — Internet service providers say a recommendation by a special Senate committee to impose state rules governing the internet would be harmful to the economy and unduly regulate the industry.

The proposed legislation from the Senate Special Committee on Net Neutrality and Consumer Protection comes nearly four months after the Federal Communications Commission repealed federal net neutrality regulation. The Senate proposal aims to protect consumers against potentially discriminatory practices and data misuse by internet service providers.

The bill is contained in a committee report and received a public hearing last week. The measure would create a Massachusetts Internet Service Provider Registry and require ISPs to disclose their network management practices.

Additionally, the bill bans blocking, throttling and paid prioritization with exceptions for “reasonable network management elsewhere disclosed.” The bill also prohibits the collection, use or sharing of personal consumer data without consent.

Committee members were greeted by broadband industry representatives who reiterated concerns raised in a previous hearing. Four representatives from industry groups argued that the proposed privacy regulations are excessive, that a state-by-state approach to ISP regulation would harm the economy, and that state-level regulation would be pre-empted by the FCC order.

“The idea that one state is going to drive national policy on the internet is a situation that I don’t think any consumer would want,” said Tim Wilkerson, vice president and general counsel of the New England Cable and Television Association.

Those opposing the data privacy provisions argued that there are already sufficient federal regulations.

Wilkerson said that ISPs and content providers are often conflated in the current outcry over internet privacy. While content providers like Facebook have been in the news for inappropriate personal data use, Wilkerson claimed that ISPs do not have a record of data misuse. That misconception, he said, results in unwarranted targeting of ISPs in the new regulation.

During the hearing, committee Chairwoman Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, D-Newton, asked Wilkerson and Andrew Kingman of the State Privacy and Security Coalition if the ISPs they represent sell or share individual or aggregate personal data to third-parties. Both said ISPs do not share individual data, but declined to say if they share aggregate data with third parties.

Not all were opposed to the recommendations, though, and some argued the state needed to take action to counteract the failure of the federal government to provide adequate consumer protections.

“Just reading the newspaper headlines every day, you hear about data breaches and leaks, and it’s becoming obvious that we need more consumer protections and privacy protections on the internet. And again, when the federal government erodes those protections, it’s states like Massachusetts that can lead the way,” Deirdre Cummings of MASSPIRG told the committee.

The bill must still be heard by the Senate and House. Should it pass, enforcement of the law would begin Jan. 1, 2019.




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