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
As Americans become more conscious of what’s in the food they are eating and feeding their families, industrial food and chemical producers have been spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a public relations campaign to confuse consumers and drive the media narrative about their products. These are the findings from a new report issued by ...Read More
With a few days left in the 2015 legislative session the Vermont legislature passed significant legislation to protect consumers in rent-to-own transactions. The rent-to-own industry rents goods such as electronics, furniture and appliances to customers with little to no money down at greatly inflated prices. These services allow customers to pay top shelf prices on items, ...Read More
On Monday Judge Christina Reiss rejected a motion from corporate food and chemical companies asking Vermont to stop implementation of the state’s GMO labeling law. The judge also dismissed a number of the plaintiffs’ claims including assertions that the law violates the commerce clause and was expressly preempted by federal law. Possibly the most important aspect ...Read More
Last week the Vermont Senate passed legislation to bring necessary consumer protections to the rent-to-own industry. The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote and now heads to the House of Representatives. These businesses rent out home goods such as couches, refrigerators and televisions to consumers at a premium price, giving consumers the ability to ...Read More
Earlier this month, VPIRG joined a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and advocates for low income individuals, children, the elderly and socially responsible business in calling for reforms to Vermont’s rent-to-own industry. S.73, a bill that would reign in some of the most egregious industry practices, is now in front of the Senate Economic Development Housing ...Read More
We have hit an important step in the process of labeling genetically engineered foods in Vermont. On Wednesday, February 4th from 5:00-6:00pm at the State House in Montpelier, the Attorney General’s Office will hold the final public hearing on the proposed rules for enforcing Vermont’s GMO labeling law. The Attorney General’s Office has been charged with ...Read More
With the first week of the 2015 Legislative Session wrapping up, check out VPIRG’s priorities for 2015! (Click the Program Name to jump to that section). Clean Energy Consumer Protection Elections & Government Reform Environmental Protection Health Care Toxics & Environmental Health Clean Energy Putting a Price on Pollution: With storms like Irene giving us a taste of what a future of global warming ...Read More
Yesterday the first oral arguments were heard in GMA v. Sorrell, the case against Vermont’s landmark GMO labeling law. Earlier this year the Grocery Manufacturers Association filed suit against the State of Vermont for passing Act 120, the nation’s first no-strings-attached GMO labeling law. The arguments focused on the State’s Motion to Dismiss and the ...Read More