July 26, 2019 - Distinguished Fellow Gigi Sohn Speaks to NPR About New Maine Law to Protect Broadband Privacy, DOJ Approval of Sprint-T-Mobile Deal

The Institute’s Distinguished Fellow Gigi Sohn spoke with NPR twice this week to discuss two developing issues in tech and communications policy.

New Broadband Privacy Law in Maine

In a July 27 interview, Sohn spoke about new legislation passed in Maine to restore internet privacy protections following Congress’s repeal of the Obama-era broadband privacy rules. The act, which passed the Maine legislature with strong bipartisan support in May, requires broadband internet service providers (ISPs) to ask customers for permission before using, selling or sharing customer’s personal information. The bill defines such information to include an individual’s browsing history, application usage, geolocation, the content of communications, device identifiers and the origin and destination internet protocol addresses.

Maine’s new law requires ISPs to give customers a “clear, conspicuous and nondeceptive notice” of the customer’s rights, and prohibits ISPs from refusing service to customers who withhold consent. It also prohibits them from offering financial or other incentives for customers to opt-in.

ISPs may use or share information that does not fall within the definition of customer personal information unless an individual opts out.

The Act regulates approximately 80 broadband internet service providers that operate in Maine, covering customers “that are physically located and billed for service received in the State.” The law takes effect in July 2020.

The new law reflects growing momentum to adopt consumer privacy protections at the state level in the absence of comprehensive federal privacy protections. With its opt-in regime, Maine’s new law has been widely viewed as the strongest ISP consumer privacy measure in the country.

On Saturday, Sohn spoke with NPR to explain the impact of the bill, which she testified in support of in April of this year. Listen to her interview here.

Sprint-T-Mobile Merger Approved

The prior day, Sohn spoke with NPR about the Justice Department’s approval of the proposed merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, a $26 billion deal that has been the subject of protracted regulatory review.

To gain approval, the companies agreed to sell certain assets to Dish Network, including wireless spectrum and Boost Mobile, Sprint's prepaid phone business. The deal includes requirements that the merged company make available to Dish 20,000 cell sites and hundreds of retail locations. The concessions would effectively make Dish the country's fourth-largest wireless carrier, although it would continue to rely on T-Mobile for use of its network. The merged company must give Dish access to the T-Mobile network for seven years following the deal, while Dish builds its own 5G network.

Along with other consumer advocates, Sohn has expressed continued concern with the deal. "The concessions are not enough to make sure there's a strong, viable, fourth national competitor," she told NPR.

In a statement, she elaborated:

“Given incontrovertible evidence of higher prices and reduced competition, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim should have blocked this merger. . . The state AGs who sued to block the merger shouldn’t be fooled by this weak attempt to maintain competition in the mobile wireless market. . . A new mobile wireless entrant that starts with zero postpaid subscribers and that must rely on its much bigger rival, the new T-Mobile, just to operate is not a competitor. It’s a mobile Frankenstein.”

Earlier this year, the Institute hosted a debate on Capitol Hill which saw representatives from Sprint and T-Mobile debate opponents of the deal.

Sohn later testified against the deal before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, arguing that the merger would negatively impact consumers and competition.

Attorneys general of 14 states and the District of Columbia have sued to stop the deal, arguing it will increase consumer wireless costs by at least $4.5 billion a year.