Putting people ahead of profits and standing up to powerful special interests on behalf of all Vermonters.
From fighting against misleading food labeling to ending exploitive credit card fees to reining-in the rent-to-own industry, VPIRG is dedicated to pushing for laws and regulations that better protect consumers and ensure that Vermont is a desirable, safe, and economically vibrant place to live, work, and raise a family.
Since 2017, the VPIRG Consumer Protection Program has placed a specific emphasis on working for policies that protect consumers in the digital space. This decision was borne from the recognition that consumers are increasingly conducting more and more actions online; while the largest threats to consumer safety and well-being come from the increasingly powerful, monopolistic and largely unregulated technology and telecommunications industries.
To that end, in recent years, VPIRG has prioritized educating consumers and mobilizing them in support of policies that promote an internet that is accessible, fair and secure for all Vermonters.
Broadly this means:
- Accessibility: Every Vermonter should have access to an affordable, quality, broadband internet connection. Fast, reliable internet is no longer a luxury—in the 21st century economy, it’s an absolute necessity. It’s how we conduct job searches, make important health decisions, maintain connections with friends and families, and become active participants in our democracy. To that end, VPIRG fights to ensure that all Vermonters have access to reliable internet service, regardless of income level, geography, race, gender, etc.
- Fairness: Vermonters deserve a fair and equitable internet experience. Broadly speaking, this means Vermonters (and everyone for that matter) deserve net neutrality. Internet service providers should not be able to slow down or block legal content—not for business purposes, not for political purposes, not for any purposes.
- Security: Vermonters should be able to use the internet privately and securely, with the understanding that their information and data will not be sold by internet service providers without their knowledge and distributed for nefarious purposes. VPIRG advocates for policies that provide Vermonters a reasonable level of privacy over their internet activity, allow them to clearly understand who has access to their information and how it’s being used, and do what we can to prevent the abuse of that information.
In the past 5 years, VPIRG has successfully advocated for a number of enacted policies in these areas – including some legislation that can be described as nation-leading. These victories include but are not limited to:
- Net neutrality: VPIRG successfully advocated for S.289 (Act 169) which ensures that the state of Vermont will only contract with net neutral internet service providers. Following the Trump FCC’s rollback of Net Neutrality in 2018, many states moved forward to preserve those critical protections for consumers within their borders. Several governors issued executive orders with language similar to Act 169, but Vermont was the first state to enact a law requiring internet providers with state contracts to certify as net neutral. This law ultimately earned the state a lawsuit from the telecom industry, the outcome of which remains unresolved. However, Vermont’s law has helped contribute to a patchwork of protections and regulations which have prevented the telecom industry from moving forward with the worst possible net neutrality abuses and have provided a window for federal action to renew nationwide net neutrality protections.
- Data Broker Regulation: VPIRG was instrumental in enacting a law (Act 171) that requires data brokers – third party companies that buy and sell individuals’ personal information – to register with the state and report their opt-out practices. It also requires these companies to maintain a minimum data security standard and makes it a crime to obtain an individual’s information for malicious purposes. Vermont was the first state to past such a law. Since it’s enactment the Data Broker law has helped unearth a New Jersey company that sold the personal information of millions of minors; despite claiming to have no data on underaged individuals and allowed Vermont to bring enforcement against the controversial facial recognition software company Clearview AI.
- A Model for Community Broadband in a Rural State: Contrary to many other states that have, at the behest of the telecom giants, banned municipal and community-owned broadband solutions; Vermont has enacted several VPIRG-championed laws in recent years that prioritize community broadband solutions as the state works to bridge our digital divide. This includes the creation of state government positions to explicitly assist community broadband development, the creation of a state revolving loan program to provide initial capital to these entities, and, most recently, directing significant federal broadband funding directly to these community providers to accelerate broadband development in the state. VPIRG has worked for policies that prioritize community broadband solutions because we believe these entities, free from the profit motives of the legacy telecoms, are best positioned to deliver affordable, universal internet access in the state. Community-owned networks are much more consumer-friendly than the giant telecoms. On average, they’re more-affordable and provide better speeds than large telecoms while prioritizing bedrock consumer protection principles like net neutrality and user privacy.
Recent Consumer Protection News
Vermont consumers scored major victories this week when two VPIRG-supported digital consumer protection bills were enacted into law. On Tuesday, Gov Phil Scott signed the net neutrality bill (S.289) and let the data broker bill (H.764) become law without his signature. Net Neutrality By enacting this law Vermont has taken a critical step toward countering the Trump administration’s ...Read More
All session long, VPIRG and our members have been advocating for H.764 – better known as the Data Broker Bill. Data brokers are third party companies (like Equifax) that buy and sell your personal information without your knowledge. You don’t interact with these companies and would probably be surprised to learn that they may have in-depth ...Read More
With just days left in the Vermont Legislative session, state legislators are working to finalize language on a proposal to promote net neutrality in Vermont. S.289 – the Net Neutrality Bill – is being negotiated in a committee of conference, before heading to both the House and Senate for a final up-or-down vote. If passed S.289 would ...Read More
Last month, Governor Phil Scott sent a letter to legislative leaders outlining his opposition to several bills on the basis that these bills would impose new taxes or fees or somehow impose new costs on Vermonters. In his letter, the governor did not elaborate on what any of these bills would actually do. And based on ...Read More
Last week, the House advanced H.764, a first-in-the-nation bill to regulate data brokers in Vermont. This is an important step to give Vermonters better protections and more control when it comes to their sensitive information. Last summer’s Equifax data breach — where the personal information of over 140 million Americans was exposed, including hundreds of thousands ...Read More
The Vermont Senate advanced an important measure Friday to promote a fair and open Internet in Vermont. On a 23 to 5 vote, the Senate gave final approval to S.289 – a bill that would ensure the state only contracts with Internet Service Providers that adhere to Net Neutrality principles. The move comes in response to the ...Read More
The following are comments submitted by VPIRG at the public hearing of the Vermont House Commerce and Economic Development Committee responding to the Equifax Data Breach and other data privacy related concerns: Good evening. I’m Zachary Tomanelli – the Communications and Technology Director for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, VPIRG, the state’s largest environmental and ...Read More
In front of a large crowd on Thursday at the Northern Stage theater in White River Junction, Governor Scott signed into law S.135, a bill that creates a state-administered retirement program. As part of a larger economic development bill that supports rural and downtown development, Section C of the legislation authorizes the Treasurer’s Office to implement the ...Read More