Broadband: With Jessica Rosenworcel
22 minutes

Did you know Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was also a professional basketball player? Learn about her history as a point guard, her work protecting consumers, and why she joined the fight to protect net neutrality in this episode of Broadband Conversations.


MS. ROSENWORCEL: Hey, there. Welcome to another episode of Broadband Conversations, the podcast where women across the technology, innovation, and media sectors get to talk about what they're working on, what's on their minds, and what's next for the future.

I'm Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, and I'm really excited because today I've got someone joining me who not only shares my passion for an open internet, but is also from New England where I grew up, so let me introduce Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

MS. HEALEY: Hi, Jessica, great to be with you.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, it's so exciting to have you. You are a trailblazer, a passionate public servant, and of course a fighter for consumers, and I am so thrilled to have you joining me today, but I want to start with a little bit of back story.

So what can you tell us about yourself, and how you got started, and how you got to where you are today?

MS. HEALEY: Well, I know you grew up in Connecticut. I grew up actually in New Hampshire, but went to school in Massachusetts, first at Harvard, and then I have to tell you, I was at Harvard, lived in the same dorm that Mark Zuckerberg later lived in, and worked at the same --


MS. HEALEY: -- computer terminals. We had a little IT room set up that later, I guess, was where he did his handiwork and created that thing called Facebook.

But after I left Harvard, unlike some of my classmates who got jobs on Wall Street or went on to graduate school, I decided to go overseas and I played basketball actually for a few years in a women's pro league over there.

I came back to this country and studied at Northeastern for law school and then began a legal career that has taken me a number of different places from big practice at an international law firm, to a district attorney's office, to the attorney general's office, and ultimately now running the attorney general's office here in Massachusetts. I happily got reelected as attorney general this past November.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: So I bet I'm talking to one of the only former professional basketball players who is also serving as an attorney general.

MS. HEALEY: That may be true.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: You can claim that. I'm pretty convinced.

MS. HEALEY: And for the record because, you know, this is a podcast, people always assume -- whenever I went on job interviews or the like, they always expected me to be tall, right, because I was a basketball player, but for the record, I'm 5'4" and obviously --


MS. HEALEY: -- was a point guard.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: I was about to say you must be a point guard. It's the one thing I know about basketball and height.

MS. HEALEY: That's right. That's right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: So you were saying you just began this new term as Massachusetts attorney general, and I know you're one of only a handful of women who are serving in this kind of role across the country, but for the uninitiated, can you just describe what a state attorney general does?

MS. HEALEY: Sure, well, we like to think of ourselves as the people's lawyer. Our job is to be out there standing up to special interests, taking on the big sites, making sure we're enforcing laws that are there to protect residents in our states.

So we're out there enforcing civil rights laws, environmental protection laws, standing up for ratepayers when utilities want to unfairly charge us more money, bringing actions against businesses that deceive consumers or engage in unfair practices.

We do a lot of work around healthcare here in Massachusetts in ensuring people's access to healthcare and healthcare coverage. So it's a really great job.

I run an office of about 600 employees with a budget of just over $50 million, and we're working around the state trying to make life better for families and communities here in Massachusetts, and that really is the job of many AGs across this country.

Right now, I'm particularly focused on the opioid crisis, which has been really, really devastating here in Massachusetts, healthcare, protecting students, particularly against predatory student lending practices, and taking on issues related to climate change and standing up for important environmental rules and regulations that are in place.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: So I know, in addition to all of that, which is quite a docket, you have also been a leader in calling for strong net neutrality policies, and that's an issue that's near and dear to my heart. I support net neutrality, and I know that you have sued my agency, the FCC, over its effort to roll back our net neutrality rules late in 2017.

So without getting into the merits of the suit, I'd love it if you could just tell me why this is an important issue for you and for the people that you represent.

MS. HEALEY: I think it's a really important issue. So much of our lives really is online, our shopping, our banking, social media, access to healthcare, email communication, consumer purchasing, you name it. I mean, this is where we've moved as a society.

And I think that most would agree with me that the last thing we need is a slower, more expensive, or more restricted internet, and that's why I sued to protect net neutrality.

I look at this as a form of internet discrimination. The absence of net neutrality really, you know, presents, I think, some real concerns and concerns to consumers.

I'm concerned that what we see happening is that really our internet service providers would be allowed to favor their own content and block others.

Consumers might be charged more to access at certain times and, you know, if you're not able to pay more, you're not going to get the quality or the speed of your internet, and that really is unfair in my view, and that's why I joined along with 21 other state AGs to sue to protect net neutrality.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Well, I cosign all of that, and I am so pleased to see how much energy there was for this issue, not just from state attorney generals, but just all across the country from consumers everywhere.

MS. HEALEY: Right? I remember when, you know, when this first emerged as an issue. The number of calls and emails to this office and just generally out there, it really, really struck a chord, and I think rightly so because people want freedom of the internet.

They want to know that they're going to be able to access the internet and not be discriminated against simply because they aren't in a position to pay more for faster access.

I mean, as I say, this really is where our life is lived these days. We need free and open access to the internet. That's what we need, I think, as we move forward as a society. This is really where life and commerce is lived.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah, there's no aspect of civic and commercial life that hasn't been touched by the online world, and I think across law, across policy, across politics, we all have to really figure out how to address that in a modern way.

And I know it's not just net neutrality, but a big issue is protecting online privacy, and certainly there are a lot of discussions about that in Washington right now, but I'm curious what you're doing in the states and what you're doing to address privacy issues in Massachusetts?

MS. HEALEY: This is a really important issue for me and for many of us. One of the first things I did when I got elected was to host a data privacy forum in collaboration with MIT and Harvard University, and the idea of the forum was really this goal of protecting consumer data privacy while working with our technology companies and working with industry generally to support data driven digital economies.

And we want to do everything we can to encourage innovation, but we also have to make sure that we are protecting consumers, protecting against the unnecessary aggregation of their data, the modernization of that data without transparency, without disclosure.

We certainly also have seen problems with the collection of data that turns out to be inaccurate. Collection of inaccurate data can really cause harm to consumers.

We've had people complain about losing access to credit because the credit score reported was wrong, having trouble applying for mortgages or jobs even, and, you know, this is really important stuff.

So what are we doing as an office? We're trying to educate on our data privacy laws. We enforce our data privacy laws against companies, and, you know, we're working together with other offices to do things like investigate, whether it was Equifax, who, you know, committed that major data breach a few years ago, to more nuts and bolts education to consumers about what steps they can take to protect against identity theft. That's where we are.

I also think that, Jessica, it's really important that this not just be a law enforcement matter. We need government, intelligence community, business, our NGO community, to come together to come up with what are the best ways to protect data and to protect its privacy?

I know from having talked to so many CEOs, I mean, so much money is spent every month towards combating cyber attacks and hacks into operations.

So this is a concern that we all share and we really need leadership and leadership in D.C. on these issues, but as I say, industry, business, intelligence, government, we've got to come together and we've got to collaborate.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Absolutely, there are so many aspects to this, not just in Washington and state legislatures with offices like yours.

And you even mentioned education, and, you know, that's really not an afterthought if you just think about what notice and choice means right now.

If every one of us read every security and privacy policy we ticked a box on, you know, I read somewhere it would take us 76 working days to actually understand and comprehend them.

We've reached the point where we are signing off on all sorts of data in so many aspects of our lives. We're going to have to figure out how to make that more meaningful over time, and I hope that state attorneys general are looking at that too.

MS. HEALEY: We are, and I think we've got to make it easy for people, right?

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Right, right.

MS. HEALEY: I mean, who has the time to go through all of this and sort all of this?


MS. HEALEY: So sort of, you know, what do we need to have in place up front as sort of a gatekeeping function to protect against potential fraud, and abuse, and misuse?

And, you know, right now, we're sort of doing this on an ad hoc basis as things come up. I'll give you an example.

A year ago, we worked here in Massachusetts, my office, to stop a digital advertising company that was actually hired to use mobile geofencing technology to target women who were entering reproductive healthcare facilities.

And look, I get that geofencing can have super positive benefits for consumers. Isn't it nice to walk by a coffee shop and get a coupon?

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Get a discount.

MS. HEALEY: Right?


MS. HEALEY: But it's also a technology that has the potential to be incredibly invasive, and in this instance, was used to digitally harass women who were simply seeking access to healthcare in a reproductive facility with messaging and the like.

And, you know, that was an interference obviously with privacy, and interference with health privacy, and just an example of how we really need to be careful and vigilant as we look at the uses of technology.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: So let's move for a moment from data privacy to something else that is affecting all of us, and that is the incredible surge in robocalls.

And I know I'm not a fan of Rachel from card member services, and in this job, I've not really actually met anyone who is, but the number of robocalls is increasing dramatically.

At the end of last year, there were five billion robocalls received by consumers in the United States, and we are doing some work on it at the FCC. I'm pressing my colleagues to do a whole lot more, but I'd love to know how state attorneys general are addressing this problem and really this crisis?

MS. HEALEY: It is a huge problem. I think this is the thing I hear most about in this office. This is the single largest source of complaints to our office, and in many ways, our hands are tied.

Here's what I have done. You know, I have encouraged folks to do things like install call blocking apps on their smart phones, obviously to sign up for do not call lists and the like, to simply hang up the phone. We warn of various scams that we hear about, but here's what I'd like to see happen.

Recently, I joined with other state AGs in supporting the Trace Act, which would do a few things. It would enable our telecom companies -- and this is really important.

They need to be at the table and they need to be working with us to implement technologies that would authenticate the source of calls and block high-risk calls from going to your phone.

These companies have the tools to stop robocalls in my view, and this bill will make it a requirement for them to do so. It also provides for criminal enforcement and penalties.

And, you know, I'm proud to say this is a bipartisan working group of AGs who want to work to find some solutions among the telecom industry. We've met with some of the major companies in this space to talk about their technological capabilities.

We need them at the table. We need them acting, and this is, in my view, the only way we're going to mitigate against this really abusive, certainly annoying, disruptive practice.

You think about it, I get calls to my own office direct line, robocalls. I get them on my cell phone.


MS. HEALEY: I mean, they're constant.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: No, I do too, and I'm stunned at the incredible growth. And I know I've called for this agency to put that call authentication technology in place.

We shouldn't even have to wait for Congress. I believe we have authority to make it happen right now, but I do think the piece of legislation is terrific and I hope it --

MS. HEALEY: Well, I think we should do both. I certainly support those efforts.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And the sooner, the better, right? The sooner, the better.

MS. HEALEY: Right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: You should have more time to deal with other issues. This one, I think, takes up so much of our time, and look, it's become easy to become a scam artist. We're going to have to figure out how to make it more difficult.

MS. HEALEY: Yes, I totally agree with you, and whatever you and the commissioners can do is much appreciated.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: I'm going to work on convincing my colleagues.

MS. HEALEY: You're a hero.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: But another thing, another thing that I know that we actually have both done some work on and have expressed concern about is the high cost of prison payphone rates.

Most people don't know this, but a single call from a prisoner can cost as much as you and I might pay for a monthly unlimited plan, and, you know, recidivism increases when you do not have regular contact with family and friends.

So I feel like whatever we can do at the state and federal level to bring those rates more into alignment with the rest of the marketplace would be a good thing, and I'm wondering how you've been addressing that in the state of Massachusetts?

MS. HEALEY: Well, this is, I think, an important issue that many people may not know about. It's really a matter of fairness, and it has been the case for far too long that people who are incarcerated are charged really super high fees and rates for calls. It's wrong.

And, you know, in many instances, these rates and fees are used to fund actual prison and jail operations.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's true.

MS. HEALEY: I don't think that's fair. One thing we know, as a matter of criminal justice, is that it's so important to incent and encourage contact between those who are incarcerated and their families and loved ones on the outside.

We know that a person who is in jail or in prison who has more contact with loved ones on the outside is going to have a better post-release outcome. That's just a fact.

So we should be creating more incentives for that contact, not less, and unfortunately, one of the ways that we really deny and deprive incarcerated persons and their family members of such contact is through the imposition of these rates where providers --

Here in Massachusetts, Jessica, providers may charge up to $3.00 per call just as a surcharge in addition to a rate of $0.10 a minute, and that's just for a call within the state.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Within the state, right.

MS. HEALEY: The cost to a family of a 15-minute daily phone call can exceed $160 a month. That's just wrong. So we sent a letter to the FCC expressing our support for reforming the nation's Inmate Calling Services, ICS.

And I really hope that we can see a change here because this results in serious financial strain on families with incarcerated members, and it also, as a matter of criminal justice reform, is not helping the situation.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah, and as you mentioned, it really harms all of us. You don't have to have someone you know who has been incarcerated. The reality is that crime increases when people who are incarcerated do not have regular contact with family and friends, so all in.

I'm hoping this agency can work on it, and because a lot of these calls are within states, it's also going to require the work of state authorities as well, so I hope we can make some progress on that over time.

MS. HEALEY: I hope so too.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Now, final questions that I tend to ask people when we close out, so it's a quick take really on how you use the internet, and I'm going to ask you, especially as we are around the time of the 30th anniversary of the world wide web, what's the first thing that you recall doing online or when did you first use the internet?

MS. HEALEY: Boy, it probably was maybe when I was living overseas and had some initial correspondence, but I'm old, and the internet is now getting older, so I don't have a very good memory. I just -- it seemed like it happened overnight.

I remember starting out in legal practice at a law firm out of law school, and at that time, the email really was just within the office, and then all of a sudden, it seemed to be just overnight, it took off and completely changed the nature of law practice too, but that's sort of my early memories of the internet.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: So what's the last thing you did on the internet?

MS. HEALEY: I checked the news feed about a half hour ago.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Of course, of course, like everyone else, right?

MS. HEALEY: Right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: I mean, gone are the days when you waited for the newspaper to just hit your front stoop in the morning and you only watched the evening news at night.

MS. HEALEY: I know, and last night, I ordered some children's books online, so --

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, that's sweet.

MS. HEALEY: -- I do do some shopping on the internet for sure.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right, so now the bigger picture, what do you think the future of the internet and digital life could look like?

MS. HEALEY: Well, what I think it will continue to be is just a growing dominant force in our lives, all aspects of our lives, as you mentioned.

What I hope it will be though is a force for good and that we're able to find a way to work with platforms to curb some of the abusive practices, harmful practices that I think are really detrimental to democracy, detrimental to civic society that undermine what we want to see in a fair marketplace as well.

And so I think we've got a lot of work to do, Jessica, and as I say, I think this has got to happen at all levels in partnership working together with the companies and the platforms, with policy makers at all levels.

We have to do the hard thinking and the hard work to try to get this right now so that we have a future where the internet and digital life is a positive force.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, I agree. We have choices to make. These are important days for figuring out what the digital future looks like.

MS. HEALEY: They sure are.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: So before we go, tell me where folks can follow you to keep up to date with the good work you're doing.

MS. HEALEY: Well, thank you. Most all of our resources are available on our website if you go to You can follow us on Twitter @MassAGO, and we encourage people to write, to call, to be in touch with us.

And I look forward to talking with you maybe down the line as we go forward. I think there's, as you say, there's a lot of decisions that need to be made, and I think important ones right now, and I hope we can work together in government and outside of government to get that done.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Well, that wraps up another episode of Broadband Conversations. Thank you to Attorney General Maura Healey and thank you to everyone for listening. Take care.