s
s
Sections
Search
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Login

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

LoginSubscribe

Major internet service providers scored a victory Tuesday when the U.S. House narrowly voted to repeal privacy rules designed to protect the browsing history of their customers.

The measure, which passed by a 215-205 vote, will repeal a rule issued by the Federal Communications Commission last year that required providers to inform their customers about what type of information they collect, how they use it and with whom they share it. Internet providers now will also be able to enter the $83 billion online advertising market and use a customer’s browsing history to target their ad strategy.

The bill has already passed the Senate by a 50-48 vote and President Donald Trump has indicated he will sign it.

Both local congressmen, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, voted against it.

Local telecom company Sonic fought a pitched battle against overturning the rules, which were put in place by the Obama administration last year.

The Santa Rosa-based company has carved out a niche competing against Comcast, AT&T and Charter Communications as an alternative provider in an industry where monopoly in high-speed service is often the case.

“I think most consumers assume that their use of the internet today is private,” said Dane Jasper, Sonic CEO who co-founded the company in 1994, before terms such as WiFi and search engine were common.

“The idea that your service provider can be monitoring all your use is, frankly, pretty creepy,” Jasper said.

In fact, Sonic has used its privacy policy as a key selling point in attracting subscribers, which now total more than 100,000 from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a consumer watchdog group, has given the company its highest score in the realm of protecting data from government requests — from disclosing its policy on data retention to telling users about government data demands such as subpoenas.

Under the Obama administration rules, internet service providers also were obligated to get the permission of users to use and share sensitive information such as financial and health inquiries, borrowing history and Social Security numbers. Customers had the ability to opt out so that nonsensitive information, such as email addresses, could be shared.

Proponents of the bill argued that service providers should be treated the same as other digital companies such as Google and Facebook, which are under less-stringent privacy rules administered by the Federal Trade Commission.

“With a proven record of safeguarding consumer privacy, internet providers will continue to work on innovative new products that follow ‘privacy-by-design’ principles and honor the FTC’s successful consumer protection framework,” said the trade group Internet & Television Association, in a statement.

Jasper noted that websites such as Google and Facebook are visited voluntarily by users, whereas many internet consumers don’t have a choice about how they access broadband service.

“Internet service providers, in general, are a unique checkpoint for all consumer actions,” he said.

He contends the debate highlights the stranglehold that the large providers have on the marketplace, especially in offering high-speed service to homes and business.

“The prices people pay and their frustration are all symptoms of a failed competitive market,” Jasper said.

About 20 percent of Sonic’s business is on its own fiber-optic network, which is available in parts of Sebastopol; 60 percent uses DSL copper wires rented from AT&T; and another 20 percent is bought wholesale from AT&T. None of the arrangements allow gathering of private information about its customers.

Jasper contends those who cannot sign up for a service provider that will protect their privacy may opt to use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect their browsing, especially on public Wi-Fi networks or at the local Starbucks.

Editor’s Note: The story has been updated to change the company’s name to Sonic rather than Sonic.net, which it formally changed a few years ago.

Show Comment