Opinion

Americans See the Value in Nationwide Internet Governance Rules

In this time of intense political division, it’s a rare thing for people in the United States to agree on anything. That political divisiveness spills over into the policy arena is a given. After all, we elect lawmakers who will put the policies we want in place and then it’s up to them to develop a solution.

That ability to come to an agreement — while not the sole purview of the American political system — is one of the hallmarks of our representative democracy. True, it’s easier to develop a sound policy when the weight of public opinion backs up the policy. When public opinion is evenly divided, however, that can make it all but impossible to make good policy.

For years that division has been exploited by those who have raised roadblocks preventing the development of a coherent, lasting national policy on internet privacy and governance. But that appears to be changing, as a new Internet Innovation Alliance-Morning Consult survey shows that Americans are demanding that tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter quit stonewalling and help us develop internet governance policies that are built on solid ground.

According to the survey, fully three-quarters of respondents say that tech companies need to do more to protect the privacy of their users. Only 10 percent of those surveyed said that the tech companies are doing enough to protect their customers’ personal information. That’s 75 percent of the American people who are tired of tech companies’ repeated mea culpas that result in nothing substantial except more mea cuplas.

Americans want the buck-passing to stop. Internet users — meaning just about all of us — think it’s time for the government to step in. According to Morning Consult’s poll, a majority want rules in place that will define how ALL companies, including ISPs, apps, and platforms like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter can collect and use data from online consumers. Less than 20 percent of the respondents oppose new nationwide rules.

We have passed the time when one can seriously argue that an edge provider is somehow special and deserves different treatment than other companies. The reality is that edge providers are most likely to use data as their ultimate product, resulting in harm when this information is either misused, mishandled or, as we have seen in the news, stolen.

This looks like one of those times when good business sense, good policy and good politics combine. As Morning Consult’s survey points out, Americans are at an inflection point for both privacy and that bugaboo of internet governance known as net neutrality; by a more than 2:1 margin, Americans want the government to ensure consumers are protected online with both open internet and privacy requirements that apply equally to all companies whether they are internet service providers or edge companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon. The IIA-Morning Consult survey found that Americans — by an overwhelming 53 percent to 23 percent margin — want that new privacy and net neutrality legislation to apply equally to every company across the country.

What’s more, less than one-quarter of those surveyed thought having each state pass its own regulations was a good idea, indicating that Americans fear that 50 different state internet privacy and net neutrality laws would Balkanize the internet.

The American consumers who answered Morning Consult’s poll got it right. It’s good business to protect customers’ privacy and develop an open internet regime that covers everyone equally. It’s good policy to develop an internet governance regime that puts everyone under the same rules whether they are an internet giant like Facebook or an ISP. And, it’s good politics as Americans are getting tired of the constant backbiting, finger pointing and fragmentation that has become the norm for U.S. internet policy.

That’s why we at the IIA continue to support federal legislation that creates comprehensive privacy and net neutrality protections that apply to the entire Internet ecosystem.

Companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google are startups no longer. They are now a powerful force in national life. No longer should they be treated as enterprises that need some special carve-out from American law and regulation.

No matter the players and their perspectives, it is important to get the policies right here for betterment of the whole ecosystem. At the end of the day, we need a federal law with one set of clear rules that apply to everyone in the internet ecosystem: no blocking or throttling of legitimate online content or unfair discrimination against content. We also need robust privacy protections that apply to all companies equally, so that consumers have one set of privacy protections everywhere on the internet and no matter how they access the internet.

The body politic may be in disarray and the internet may be fractured, but the public is solidifying into a loud and clear voice in support of fixing the internet to create one set of rules for both governance and privacy. We have the ability and the will to get this done. Let’s send a message to Congress.

Kim Keenan is co-chair of the D.C.-based Internet Innovation Alliance.

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