Republicans often hail the ability of markets, when free of government interference, to align consumers with goods.
So it stands to reason that when companies that sell internet access — like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon — spent millions supporting GOP candidates, compliant Republicans gave them what they wanted: the right to sell their customers’ information.
Kentucky’s delegation was happy to participate in that market. The only “no” was Democrat Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, who talks a lot about individual privacy, didn’t vote.
The issue is a little technical and was easily overwhelmed by the constant drama generated by the Trump administration. What Congress did was block a Federal Communications Commission rule written last year that had not yet taken effect. The rule required internet service providers (ISPs) to tell their customers what information they were collecting and get permission before selling it to others.
Kentucky’s most vehement congressional libertarian, Northern Kentucky’s Rep. Thomas Massie, acknowledged he saw “some benefit from the rule.” But, Massie opined, it was better for markets to sort this out than to guarantee his constituents control over their information: “Exploiting a customer’s privacy in a way the customer resents is bad for business.”
That might be true if customers had a choice. But, as supporters of the FCC rule have pointed out, many Americans are served by only one or two ISPs and have no real choice.
Today most of us rely on internet access to conduct our lives. We use it not only to shop, follow friends on Facebook and watch cat videos but also to get information about medical conditions, conduct financial business, file tax returns, look for jobs and engage in political debate.
Sometimes when your searches are sold, the result may just be annoying, like the endless pop-up ads that follow our most idle searches for clothes or furniture. But selling medical and financial information is much more invasive and troubling.
In a week when drama over Russian meddling in last year’s campaign and the ever-widening evidence of ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign, administration and businesses and Russian interests, the ISP giveaway did not lead the news.
No doubt, for the GOP the less said the better. As Stephen Colbert observed on “The Late Show,” there is not one “voter of any political stripe anywhere in America who asked for this.”
But as our senior senator has argued, money is speech. And, in the market that is Congress, the large telecom companies that provide internet service spoke very clearly.
How much did they get?
The National Institute on Money in State Politics (www.followthemoney.org) compiled telecom donations in their last election cycle to Kentucky congressmen who voted to block the rule:
Sen. Mitch McConnell: $251,110
Rep. Andy Barr: $28,400
Rep. James Comer: $14,750
Rep. Brett Guthrie: $81,500
Rep. Thomas Massie: $2,750
Rep. Hal Rogers: $12,500