Ubiquitous broadband is a worthy target for policymakers at all levels of government. Continued real protections of internet privacy is part of the policy solution.
While all of us work to make access to high-speed internet a reality, there is much the federal government can and should do to help. Already this year, Congress and President Trump's Federal Communications Commission have taken several positive steps toward making it a reality.
For the lifetime of the commercial internet, our online privacy has been protected by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). And President Obama's appointed agency chairman, Jon Leibowitz, launched an updated and reinvigorated privacy framework in 2012, which applied to all businesses. This privacy protection has been and remained in place since then, notwithstanding a flurry of ill-informed press reports.
Earlier this year, Congress eliminated an additional, last-minute regulation put in place by the Obama administration FCC. If this Obama midnight regulation had been allowed to stand, it would have damaged longstanding online privacy protections. The October 2016 partisan effort at the FCC forced through new and duplicative privacy regulations. This new set of restrictive controls did not give any new privacy protection as it applied to internet service providers’ use of data. The rule did not control how every other company would use our data, including the largest collectors of information, Google and Facebook.
If allowed to stand, this system would have created a strained system causing consumer confusion and complaints. Luckily, our members of Congress, including Utah Republican Rep. Mia Love and Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, stood up to those Washington special interests benefiting from the two-tiered system and unrestrained access to our data.
Don’t get me wrong: There is a real need for an overarching update to our privacy protections, particularly the creation of laws that ensure legitimate, Fourth Amendment protections for data stored with “cloud services.” But these privacy rules must apply to all companies equally, no matter what activity they are conducting as we interact with them in our digital world. To do that, the FCC and the FTC must work together. President Trump's FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been working seamlessly with the acting leaders of the Federal Trade Commission.
Pai has also made a number of moves to put the FCC in the role of growing access to high-speed internet throughout rural America. And the creation of the Broadband Deployment Opportunity Council — which is being co-chaired by Kelleigh Cole, the Utah Broadband Outreach Center — provides added impetus toward removing regulatory burdens that would promote better broadband deployment throughout the United States, particularly by encouraging private investment.
Broadband in every home is not merely a feel-good goal for Silicon Valley or the bi-coastal regions of the country. It’s a real need for everyone to be competitive in our modern age and economy.
Beyond the family connectedness of Skyping and FaceTiming relatives in distant locales, such high-speed access bring teleworking, coding and other high-tech jobs to the Beehive State and elsewhere. Among the most significant, about hidden, health care developments in recent years concern the ability for telemedicine to provide diagnosis and even treatment without the need or constant waiting room waiting. And the ability to “attend” scholarly lectures and policy events — and to run a thriving business — without leaving the comfort of one’s homes makes it all important that we do everything we can to make appropriate investments in good-quality broadband. Privacy protections for broadband will enable consumers to have greater confidence in these services.
All of these needs and purposes go beyond the simple category of "quality of life." Instead, these push the boundaries of improving our local, state and regional economies. Policies like these are what we need from Washington — policies that encourage innovation and infrastructure investment, not crony capitalist regulations that favor some companies over others.
Drew Clark is a former opinion editor of the Deseret News.