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Advocates for Cities Say They Are More in Touch with the Privacy Views of Americans Than the Federal Government

David Jelke

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Photo courtesy Skip Scooters

WASHINGTON, January 30, 2020 – Even though broadband is often considered a part of interstate commerce, city leaders need to take gaps in the law into their own hands by legislating on broadband topics, said panelists at a session on cities and states at the State of the Net conference on Tuesday.

Policies on issues like micromobility and scooters obviously need to be handled at the local level, said Tech:NYC Executive Director Julie Samuels.

Brooks Rainwater, director of the Center for City Solutions, said cities have even addressed facial recognition policy, a sphere that he said the federal government should have already legislated on. Rainwater expressed frustration with national efforts that preempt the activities of states and cities.

At the same time, Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Legislative Counsel Ernesto Falcón injected his “frustration” against congressional inaction. Cities have passed their own ordinances as a natural reaction to the issues that broader government has failed to address, he said.

Falcón said 90 percent of Americans think they have “no control” over what happens to their data on the internet, and because of this, cities are the level at which consumers feel that their needs are most heard. “Federal conversations aren’t really tied to what the daily person worries about,” said Samuels.

Rick Cimerman, vice president of state affairs of the cable association NCTA, pushed back against the assertions that cities are the right place to decide broadband policy.

Cities should not be “messing” with federal “electrons that are flowing through the air,” he said, claiming that city measures on privacy are “a step too far.”

He qualified his response by ceding that scooters are a good example of activities for which cities should be responsible. He found recent privacy legislation passed by the state of Washington's House of Representatives agreeable, although he disagreed with edits made to that measure in the Washington State Senate.

Rainwater insisted that cities should “establish a floor” and not necessarily a ceiling when it comes to internet privacy law.

He also challenged Cimmerman's views on net neutrality by referencing Verizon’s action in throttled California firefighters' data communications in the midst of a wildfire. Cimmerman said Verizon’s actions were not an example of broadband throttling, but rather a misunderstanding of contract.

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