Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn, who spearheaded the House's repeal last year of the Obama-era broadband privacy regulations, has been elected to the U.S. Senate.
Those former privacy rules would have prohibited broadband carriers -- but not other online companies like search engines and social networking platforms -- from drawing on people's Web-browsing history for ad purposes without their opt-in consent. The House voted to revoke the rules by a vote of 215-205, with 10 Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the repeal. (The Senate passed the repeal by a party-line 50-48 vote.)
Blackburn subsequently introduced a privacy bill that would require all Web companies -- broadband providers, social networking services, search engines and others -- to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before using their online browsing data for ad targeting.
Blackburn also was one of Congress's most vocal critics of the former Obama-era net neutrality rules, which prohibited broadband service providers from blocking, throttling or creating paid fast lanes. Late last year, she introduced a bill that would have prohibited providers from blocking or throttling, but would have allowed them to charge higher fees for faster delivery of content.
She defended the decision to allow paid fast lanes by analogizing to overnight mail or the carpool lanes on highways. “Right now, there are components of the online ecosystem that do have prioritization, just as there is in regular life. TSA precheck, the HOV line, overnight mail, you name it, Amazon Prime,” she stated.
But many tech companies and consumer advocates argue that rules against paid prioritization are necessary in order to preserve openness.
“Paid prioritization favors the existing Internet landscape and hobbles innovation,” the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation writes in a post addressing Blackburn's proposal. “A company like, say, Netflix can afford to pay a princely sum to make sure its service gets to users as quickly and cleanly as possible. The man in his dorm room that just invented a better version of Netflix in his spare time cannot.”
Blackburn, first elected in 2002, garnered 54.7% of the vote, compared to Democratic opponent former governor Phil Bredersen's 43.9%.