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Text of letter from Congressman Matt Gaetz (April 5th, 2018)

Dear Mr. Danilow,

Thank you for contacting my office about H.J. Res 86. I am grateful for the opportunity to reply, because this is a complicated issue - and, because of the difficulty and technicality of the subject matter, it is an issue that has been frequently misreported and misinterpreted in the news.

Prior to 2015, broadband internet, as well as the creation and enforcement of internet privacy guidelines, were handled by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC had been handling issues of internet privacy for a long time with fairness and success. In 2015, however, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, reclassified broadband internet as a "common carrier service," which essentially made broadband internet a utility, like gas and water. Because the FTC does not have jurisdiction over common carrier services, however, the power to regulate and monitor broadband fell to the FCC (the ones who made the new rule). They promptly made harsh new guidelines, including the rule which H.J. Res 86 overturned (and which had not yet gone into effect).

Sites like Facebook, and search providers and sites like Google, form what are called "edge networks." These edge networks, and the huge tech companies which comprise them, monitor your online activity in order to tailor ads to you that are relevant. It's worth noting that they don't collect data that identifies you personally, but rather, data about searches and online habits in general. Naturally, ad tracking can be turned off, which is known as an "opt-out policy." The FCC's new rules, however, made it nearly impossible for ISPs to engage in this sort of advertising; the rule states that they would require your permission before they began advertising (called an "opt-in policy").

Ads are annoying. I know that. Despite how annoying and ubiquitous they are, however, they are a key source of income for most companies. The vast majority of the world's top million websites use Google Analytics, a form of advertising, and Facebook is rapidly growing in the breadth and depth of the advertising data it collects and uses. The new FCC rules would have continued to allow Google and Facebook and other edge networks to access more and more of your data, while allowing ISPs to access far less - in essence, the new rules are a massive government boost to the sites and edge networks that already have a huge advantage. Meanwhile, ISPs are left to struggle for ad revenue. This may not affect huge companies like Comcast, but it certainly makes a difference to small, local ISPs who are struggling to stay afloat in a hypercompetitive market.

It is important to note that edge networks have much more frequent access to your data than ISPs. If you search for something on your home computer, then your ISP has access to some of that data. (Another misconception is that ISPs can and do track every site and every page you visit, which is categorically untrue - they can only see the top-level domains for the majority of sites. They might see that you go to Amazon.com, but not the products that you look at when you're on that site). If you visit a site on a smartphone, however, and you're not connected to wi-fi, then your ISP doesn't have access to that data (since that data comes from your wireless carrier, not your ISP). ISPs have been hardest hit by today's increasingly mobile-based internet landscape.

Adding further burdensome regulations onto ISPs makes it difficult for them to raise ad revenue, which then must be offset by higher prices, paid by consumers. Internet service should be cheaper, not more expensive - but the new rules made that nearly impossible. ISPs were left to struggle, while edge network companies got a sweetheart deal.

Until such a time when broadband internet is not regulated as a common carrier service, this bill, signed into law on April 3, is a step in the right direction. Overturning former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's overreaching and overzealous new rule keeps the government from picking winners (huge tech companies) and losers (ISPs). It will keep the FTC and FCC guidelines the same, thus reducing the possibility of redundant, duplicative, or contradictory rules. It will make the internet more like a commodity, and less like a utility - when was the last time you could shop for competing prices on water, gas, or electric?

Despite how it was reported by the overly-sensationalist media, this bill was never a question of whether privacy should be protected. Of course it should - and of course it will continue to be. The question is whether small ISPs and huge tech giants deserve equal treatment under the law, and whether they should compete on a level playing field. I believe that they should, which is why I believe that this legislation will go a long way toward fostering growth, innovation, and lower prices in the crucial field of broadband internet.

Thank you again for contacting my office - hearing from constituents is valuable to me, so please reach out again if you have any further comments or questions. If you'd like to stay informed of the issues I am voting on, and the issues that impact northwest Florida, I encourage you to sign up for my weekly e-newsletter at http://Gaetz.house.gov!

Sincerely,

Matt Gaetz
Member of Congress

[See John's rebuttal to the congressman's reply.]

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