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How Verizon Wants to Stop States From Protecting Online Privacy

November 1, 2017, 3:48 PM UTC

After Congress gutted federal Internet privacy protection rules in the spring, some state legislators started to move to impose limits on data collection and tracking online on their own. Now Verizon is looking for a way to quash those efforts and protect an upcoming federal agency plan to undo net neutrality rules, as well.

Lobbyists for the telecom giant, which is the top wireless carrier and also a leading provider of wired home Internet connections, have approached the Federal Communications Commission to seek to block state online privacy and net neutrality rules. Federal laws give the agency the authority to step in and quash state or local laws regulating the provision of Internet service, Verizon said in a 19-page white paper submitted to the FCC last week.

The submission comes as Verizon and other top Internet service providers like AT&T (T), Comcast (CMCSA), and Charter Communications (CHTR) have won several victories over regulations adopted by the FCC under the Obama administration. The Republican-controlled Congress repealed FCC online privacy rules in March and President Trump signed the legislation in April. And in May, Trump-appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, proposed canceling most of the agency’s 2015 net neutrality rules that prohibit ISPs from blocking, slowing, or otherwise discriminating against web sites and online services.

Verizon (VZ) wants to make sure states don’t get in the way of those efforts.

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“Even as Verizon and other providers seek to develop a reasonable and sustainable federal framework to protect the open Internet, some supporters of stringent regulation of ISPs are now looking to States and localities to frustrate these achievements,” Verizon wrote in the paper. “This white paper explains why the Commission can and should preempt these problematic state broadband laws and identifies several potential sources of authority for the Commission to do so.”

The move comes as almost 30 states have considered imposing privacy rules on Internet service providers similar to the now-revoked federal rules, which, among other mandates, required that companies get permission from customers before collecting sensitive data. Although telecom lobbyists defeated one such bill in California, the state may revisit the subject in a ballot initiative next year. New York and Washington are among the other states considering adopting their own online privacy rules.

Verizon, in a statement to Fortune, said it supports “the open Internet” but that any rules must be “national in scope” and not vary from state to state. “Internet services are inherently and necessarily interstate,” Will Johnson, Verizon senior vice president, said in the statement. “Saddling these services with a patchwork of state and local regulation would result in a huge mess likely to disrupt how services are offered and would harm consumers.”