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
We all know that balancing life and work can be hard- and after a birth, serious injury, or long-term illness, that balance can be near impossible. This is especially true when workers and their families are forced to choose between a paycheck, and staying home to care for themselves or a loved one. Most countries guarantee ...Read More
VPIRG joined over 300 other farming, beekeeping, farm worker, religious, food safety, and conservation advocacy groups this week in calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to put consumer and farmer interests above corporate interests, by conducting a thorough investigation of the proposed mergers between the world’s largest agrochemical and seed companies – Bayer AG ...Read More
After VPIRG released our 31st annual Trouble in Toyland report and data from Vermont’s Toxic Free Families Act the responses from manufacturers and the toy industry were a bit puzzling. Instead of addressing known and possible carcinogens contained in their products, or ways to ensure parents know when toys are recalled, they wanted to make ...Read More
Advocates Identify Toys Containing Dangerous Chemicals Available in Vermont Some toys that have been recalled for lead or powerful magnets or other hazards can still be found in online stores, according to VPIRG’s 31st annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that consumers should be wary when shopping this holiday season. Advocates ...Read More
On Friday, July 29th President Obama signed the Stabenow-Roberts labeling bill, otherwise known as the “DARK Act,” which was passed in an effort to eliminate Vermont’s GMO labeling law. In response, the Vermont Attorney General announced on Wednesday, August 3rd that our law will no longer be enforced. Manufacturers have already begun labeling their products to ...Read More
*You can still make your voice heard on this issue. Sign the official White House petition asking President Obama to veto this bill!* As delivered to President Barack Obama: I am writing on behalf of Vermont Public Interest Research Group to ask you to veto the Roberts-Stabenow bill regarding labels on genetically engineered foods. This bill was ...Read More
Yesterday afternoon, the US Senate voted in favor of bringing up a final vote on a GMO labeling proposal put forward by Senator Stabenow (D-Mich) and Senator Roberts (R-Kan). This bill would eliminate Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law, and delay any labeling for up to two years while the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture develops ...Read More
Today, VPIRG and the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition joined Governor Shumlin, Senators Sanders and Leahy, Representative Welch, and supporters from around the country in celebrating Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law taking effect. The celebration took place on the State House lawn, where Governor Shumlin signed the bill into law a little over two years ago. ...Read More