Recently, state lawmakers in Minnesota passed legislation to protect Minnesotans’ online privacy. In Tacoma, the City Council made a similar move by passing a resolution asking the Tacoma Public Utilities board to prevent ISPs on the city’s fiber network from collecting and selling personal online data. The resolution was an example of local authority stepping in to fill the gap when federal policy fails.
When The State And The Feds Don't Act
Bills were introduced in the Washington State Legislature this session, but state lawmakers didn’t turn them into law. By mid-April, it appeared that the bills weren’t going anywhere so City Council members felt the need to address the issue after the Trump Administration’s FCC allowed privacy protections to lapse.
“I’ve just heard lots of concerns from community members and from boosters of the Click network about privacy,” said Councilman Anders Ibsen… “This also ensures that any private entity that rides our fiber, that uses the Click network, is held to certain ground rules, just really basic ground rules about respecting the privacy of their customers.”
Tacoma's Click! publicly owned network serves about 23,000 people. Over the past few years, the community has debated the future of the network and is still considering several possible scenarios. For more, check out our four-part series on the network's history and an analysis of the benefits from this public investment.
Local Network = Local Control
Like many of the local and regional ISPs that tend to offer services via publicly owned infrastructure, the two providers on Click’s network already commit to subscriber privacy. Since the announcement that privacy protections would be rolled back, several municipal networks that offer retail services have also assured their subscribers that collecting and selling information such as location data, search history, app usage, and browsing history just isn’t in their wheel house. Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber and Optilink in Dalton, Tennessee, are a few that have let customers know that they don’t use, monitor, share, or sell the type of data the new regulations allow ISPs to collect and sell.
Fletcher Kittredge, founder and CEO of GWI, an ISP offering services via public fiber in several Maine communities, is very opposed to data collection. He has stated his company would collect and sell data “over my dead body.” When privacy issues have come up in the past, national companies like AT&T have collected and sold data hand over fist, but smaller companies like Xmission in Utah are even willing to stand up to the feds to protect customer privacy.
Because the city of Tacoma is still considering the future of its network, the City Council included a provision in their resolution. If the asset is eventually sold to a private provider, the resolution requests that the privacy protections be included in the negotiations, at least until the state or federal government embraces similar protections.
While the final decision about adopting the new rule is up to network officials, the city’s attorney reported to the council that Click’s general manager sees no problems in adopting the new rule.
From Resolution 39702:
BE IT RESOLVED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF TACOMA:
Section 1. That the City Council hereby requests that the Tacoma Public Utility Board (“Board”) prohibit Internet service providers (including Click! Network pursuant to an “All-In” Retail Business Plan) who have entered into agreements with Tacoma Power to use Click! Network from collecting or selling personal information from a customer resulting from the customer’s use of the Internet without express written approval from the customer.
Section 2. That the City Council hereby requests that the Board prohibit its Internet service providers (including Click! Network pursuant to an “All-In” Retail Business Plan) from refusing to provide services to a customer on the grounds that the customer has not approved the collection or sale of the customer’s personal information.
Section 3. That the City Council hereby requests that in the event that Click! Network is sold or leased, the prohibitions as set forth in Sections 1 and 2 above be included as condition of the sale or lease.
Section 4. That the prohibitions requested in this resolution shall remain in effect until such time as either the federal government or the state of Washington enacts the same or broader privacy and security protections for Internet users.
Check out the full text of Resolution 39702.