Construction Industry News
WASHINGTON, D.C. —U.S. Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) today introduced legislation to protect consumers from online booking scams.
Daines and Nelson introduced The Stop Online Booking Scams Act that protects consumers from illegitimate third party websites that trick consumers into thinking they are making reservations directly with hotels.
Online booking sites have created a marketplace where consumers can shop for hotels across thousands of brands on a single platform. With the rise of online booking (480 bookings per minute) has come an increase in online booking scams. Fraudulent websites give the appearance of being connected to a hotel, but actually have no relationship with them. Transactions on these sites can result in additional hidden fees, loss of expected loyalty points, or even confirmation of reservations that were never made. The Stop Online Booking Scams Act addresses this problem.
“Tourism is an important part of Montana’s economy and we need to make sure that folks are getting what was promised to them,” Daines stated. “Legitimate online booking sites provide consumers with a valuable tool for comparison shopping, but deceptive websites trick consumers and scam them into paying for reservations that don’t exist.”
“This bill intends to crackdown on crooks and fraudsters who trick consumers into booking hotel rooms that don’t exist,” said Nelson, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. “Millions of consumers use the Internet to easily compare prices and find great deals on hotel rooms. We can’t have a few bad actors ruin this for everyone else.”
Similar legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year by Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.).
The Stop Online Booking Scams Act:
Recognizes the Consumer Benefits of Legitimate Booking Sites:
- Includes a sense of Congress that recognizes the robust online marketplace that allows consumers to easily compare brands and make reservations
- Notes that actions by third party sellers that misappropriate brand identity or use deceptive sales tactics are harmful to consumers
Narrowly Targets Illegitimate Third Party Reservation Sellers:
- Makes it unlawful for a third party online hotel reservation seller who is not affiliated with the hotel to accept payment for a reservation unless the seller discloses that they are not affiliated with the hotel
- A third party seller may achieve this by:
- Including conspicuous language throughout the transaction
- Including prominent display of the seller’s brand identity
Gives Enforcement Authority to the Federal Trade Commission and State Attorney Generals:
- Makes a failure to comply with the third party disclosure requirements an unfair or deceptive act under the Federal Trade Commission Act
- Gives state AGs the authority to bring a civil action against companies who violate this provision
"Good morning, and welcome to today’s hearing on oversight of the Federal Trade Commission.
"This morning, we will hear directly from the FTC’s three sitting commissioners: Chairman Ramirez, Commissioner Ohlhausen, and Commissioner McSweeny. Let me take this opportunity to welcome you to the Committee and thank you for your service.
"I first want to note that Chairman Moran was scheduled to convene a Subcommittee hearing this afternoon. That hearing was to include a panel of thought leaders who would offer their own perspectives from outside the Commission. Due to scheduling conflicts that have arisen, we will unfortunately have to reschedule that hearing until a later date. We appreciate the willingness of those witnesses to testify and thank them for their understanding.
"The FTC was founded in 1914 by Congress – specifically by this Committee. In fact, the FTC is the oldest independent federal agency under the jurisdiction of this Committee. At the beginning of this Congress, the agency celebrated its 100th anniversary, an event that prompted retrospection both from the Commission and its observers.
"As many in the room know, the agency was born of the concern that more needed to be done to ensure competitive markets in the United States and to “bust the trusts” that threatened that competition. The Commission’s focus soon expanded to include an enforcement mandate against unfair and deceptive acts and practices that threatened consumer welfare.
"A common theme uniting the Commission’s dual focus on competition and consumer protection is ensuring freedom in the marketplace. Throughout the decades, and on the balance, the FTC has been a strong cop on the beat, ensuring that Americans reap the benefits of a functioning economy free from domination by firms with unfairly concentrated market power. It has also made it possible for Americans to be confident in their commercial transactions and grow the economy with the knowledge that they are protected from fraudsters and cheats seeking to do them harm.
"Among its many programs, the FTC administers the national Do-Not-Call program, which was created in 2003 and was once rated as the second-most popular federal initiative in American history, second only to the Elvis stamp. By 2010, the registry had topped 200 million numbers.
"But the agency has not been without controversy. In the late 1970s, for example, the agency drew criticism from none other than the Washington Post editorial board for its consideration of a regulation that would impose major restrictions on television advertisements aimed at young children in order to reduce the amount of sugar children eat. This regulatory overreach led the Post to criticize the Commission as the “great national nanny” and led Congress to adopt heightened procedural safeguards on the Commission’s authority to promulgate rulemakings. It was a recognition that the proper role of government must be limited.
"Despite these measures, the Commission has at times asserted itself in ways that continue to raise concerns about overreach. This Committee has pressed the Commission, for instance, on the scope of its Section 5 authority, which prohibits unfair and deceptive acts in commerce.
"When Congress drafted the FTC Act, we took care to ensure the prohibitions of Section 5 would be evergreen. And this flexibility is one of the statute’s key features. For example, in the 1930s, in one of its first cases to use this “unfair and deceptive” language, the Commission brought a paint misbranding case against a manufacturer who allegedly sold a product branded as high-quality white lead paint when the paint, in fact, contained no white lead.
"But Section 5’s flexibility does not mean it is open-ended. To best serve customers, the business community needs certainty, guidance, and predictability in order to comply with the law. American merchants are also entitled to fairness and due process when it comes to enforcement. When the FTC deviates from longstanding practice, it creates uncertainty about what the Commission’s interpretation of the law may be, who is liable, and the extent of that liability.
"We have heard concerns, for instance, about the Commission’s application of its unfairness authority to bring cases against private companies for lax data security practices. We all agree that consumers should be protected against unreasonable data security practices that put them at risk of identity theft and financial harm. But for some time now, a key element in any unfairness case has been whether or not a practice causes substantial – that is, monetary but not subjective – injury to consumers. In one recent high-profile case, the FTC sought to enforce against a small business on grounds that it failed to implement reasonable security measures to protect the sensitive consumer information on its computer network. The FTC took the extraordinary step of overturning the decision of its own administrative law judge, who found, on the basis of the evidence in the case, no monetary harm to the affected consumers. We will continue to monitor developments in that case.
"Another area of focus for this Committee has been regulations impacting technology innovation. One of the first hearings we held this Congress was on the Internet of Things. In that hearing, we examined the significant economic and societal impact the connected world might bring. At the time, I expressed my hope that we, the government, would have the humility to recognize that the best solutions are often not government solutions, and that we not stifle the Internet of Things before we, and consumers, have had a chance to gain an understanding of its real promise and implications.
"The Commission has also focused on the Internet of things, both with enforcement activity and guidance to industry. The Commission issued its Internet of Things report last year, which summarized a workshop the FTC held on the topic. The report provided policy recommendations that some, including Commissioner Ohlhausen, have criticized for its “government-knows-best” approach that could inhibit innovation and growth. While I appreciate the Commission’s willingness to explore new topics, I would caution the Commission to exercise regulatory humility, preserve “permission-less innovation,” and continue to address actual consumer harms as they arise.
"With that, I will close by thanking the Commissioners for being here today, and turn to Senator Blumenthal for any opening remarks he might have."
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. While we will consider a number of bipartisan bills today, I want to take a few moments to talk about the NASA authorization bill that's now before us.
Last week marked the 55th anniversary of President Kennedy’s challenge to send a man to the Moon by the end of the decade. The NASA bill we will be marking up today keeps us moving toward a new, and perhaps even more ambitious goal: to send humans to Mars.
NASA has made tremendous progress since Senator Hutchison and I joined with others on this committee to pass the bi-partisan NASA authorization in 2010.
We’ve seen successful engine and booster test firings and now full on construction of the Space Launch System (SLS), which will be the most powerful rocket ever made.
Orion, the next generation deep space capsule, had a successful test flight in 2014 and is now at Kennedy Space Center where workers are testing it for a launch on the SLS in 2018.
And, thanks to NASA’s collaboration with Boeing and SpaceX, we will soon once again have American rockets carrying our American astronauts to the International Space Station from American soil.
This bill keeps those missions moving forward, and authorizes all of NASA’s important endeavors in science, aeronautics, exploration, space technology, and education to continue through 2017.
I am pleased that this bill reaffirms that NASA is a multi-mission agency. But I certainly share the desire of many of the members on this committee to see more funding for science, aeronautics, and space technology.
Despite all of the progress NASA has made over the last several years, there is no denying the fact that we are still far short of the funding trajectory that was approved by this chamber all the way back in the 2010 authorization.
In 2013, the meat cleaver of sequestration slashed all the agency programs, taking around $1 billion from the agency’s top line and we have never fully recovered.
This senator’s intention is to work with our appropriators to get the best possible outcome we can for NASA in 2017, and to work next year on a comprehensive, multi-year NASA authorization bill.
I would like to thank committee members for all their hard work in getting this bill to this point. I urge you to support this important legislation.
"Good morning. Thanks to everyone for being here today.
"While we await our quorum, I would note that we will be considering five measures today on a variety of subjects from NASA to ticket BOTS. This agenda is another great example of this Committee working together, in a bipartisan manner, to move important legislation forward.
"I am proud of the work this Committee has done this Congress and I want to thank each Member and their staff for their contributions.
"Our Committee should be proud of the work we have done. From enactment of the FAST Act, the first long term surface transportation reauthorization in over a decade, last year or the FAA reauthorization this year, which not only included numerous passenger friendly provisions, but advanced a number of important aviation security measures.
"The Committee also should be proud of enacting not one, but two, Coast Guard reauthorizations; a Commerical Space bill; the Child Nictonine Posining Prevention Act; and dozens of other important measures too numerous to list today.
"Even with this Committee’s great efforts, I know there are a number of items that still need to get to the President’s desk this year, including the MOBILE NOW Act, the Seasonal Forecasting Improvement Act, the American Innovation and Comptetitiveness Act, and possibly even some of the items we have on the agenda today, including our first item, the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2016.
"The bill addresses concerns related to potential instability at NASA during a presidential transition and provides direction to continue to pursue current national commitments and investments for NASA’s space program.
"I applaud the bipartisan effort of the bill’s sponsors, and I am please to be a cosponor.
"We will also be considering the Better Online Ticket Sales Act of 2016 – or BOTS Act, sponsored by Senators Moran, Blumenthal, Fischer, Schumer, Nelson, and Klobuchar.
"The BOTS Act will ensure that all consumers have a fair shot at seeing their favorite act or team live without having to pay exorbitant prices to do so.
"As I mentioned at last week’s subcommittee hearing on this bill, as an avid live music and sports fan, I certainly appreciate the frustration many Americans face with limited ticket availability and high ticket prices when their favorite artists come to town.
"We will also be considering S. 3097, a bill introduced by Senators Schatz and Heller that would authorize the SelectUSA program at the Department of Commerce.
"I will be offering an amendment to this bill that responds to the luxury travel improprieties and questionable office renovation expenditures at taxpayer expense of the recently resigned Under Secretary for International Trade, Stefan Selig.
"The Inspector General at the Department of Commerce recently uncovered the outrageous expenditure of taxpayer dollars by Mr. Selig, which prompted a report in the Washington Post headlined “Globetrotting Obama official traveled in luxury. Taxpayers footed the bill.”
"My amendment simply takes the recommendations made in the Inspector General’s report and requires the Secretary of Commerce to implement these recommendations quickly in order to deter future abuses of taxpayer dollars by politically appointed officials at the Department of Commerce.
"The final two items on today’s agenda are bills that were both recently approved by the House to promote women in science.
"H.R. 4755, the INSPIRE Act, would direct NASA to leverage and improve programs that encourage women and girls to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and to pursue careers in aerospace.
"H.R. 4742, the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act, authorizes the National Science Foundation to pursue programs that better support women who are commercializing ideas, starting small businesses, and creating jobs.
"Both bipartisan bills saw near-unanimous approval in the House and I look forward to their speedy consideration here in the Senate.
"Before I turn to Senator Nelson for any opening remarks he has, I wanted to say a word about a measure that is not on the agenda today, the Safeguarding American Families from Exposure by Keeping Information and Data Secure Act – or SAFE KIDS Act.
"This measure, championed by Senators Daines and Blumenthal, seeks to protect the privacy and security of information pertaining to students and their families.
"While this Committee strongly supports the goal of protecting student safety and privacy, and Senators Daines and Blumenthal have worked diligently to address concerns of stakeholders and others, at this point a handful of concerns still remain.
"I appreciate the sponsors’ willingness to continue to work to address these remaining issues as we move forward, and once addressed, I am hopeful that the Committee can consider the measure at a future markup.
"With that, I will turn to Senator Nelson for any opening remarks he would like to make."
The Federal Communications Commission has a very full – and by all accounts, an ambitious – agenda in front of it this fall. And while proceedings like the one on broadband privacy are incredibly important, I want to touch initially on Chairman Wheeler’s latest proposal to free consumers from having to pay annoying and excessive monthly rental fees for set-top boxes.
Everybody agrees that we need to move beyond set top boxes. The marketplace should constantly strive for ways to give consumers what they want. Congress said as much in 1996 when we required the FCC give consumers some alternatives to these boxes.
Unfortunately, twenty years has passed and consumers are still renting these boxes month after month. That’s no longer acceptable. That’s why this senator is fully supportive of the FCC’s efforts to use its authority to give consumers some relief.
Chairman Wheeler, as we have discussed, I am encouraged that your leadership and relentless drive have gotten us so close to that shared goal.
As you know, I’ve spent a great deal of my time here in the Senate putting politics aside in order to reach agreement on reforms that improve the lives of the Americans. I learned a long time ago that no matter how good intentioned a proposal, if consensus can’t be reached then it’s not likely going to be a success.
We sit here today two weeks from a planned vote on your proposal and I continue to hear from many stakeholders that there are elements of your proposal that continue to need work. And much of that concern comes from the approach you have taken on copyright and content. In fact, I share those concerns and stated those concerns to you months ago.
If we stay on the present course, I fear the FCC’s actions to promote set-top box competition could be tied up in court and hamstrung for years. We just experienced that reality with net neutrality, which created a decade-long fight and left consumers without effective consumer protections as they used their broadband service.
It’s my hope that you will take the time necessary to reach out to stakeholders in good faith to try to resolve some of these concerns so that we can once-and-for-all free consumers from monthly set top box fees. This issue is very important to consumers. We need to get this right.
I do want to briefly touch upon a couple of additional matters in the time I have remaining.
Chairman Wheeler, at our last oversight hearing, you and I talked about the need for Congress to act to help advance the ongoing evolution of our nation’s 9-1-1 infrastructure to Next Generation 9-1-1. It is a public safety priority for the federal government and the states to further this transition and make sure that 9-1-1 service remains robust and able to respond adequately and effectively in an emergency. We all rely on 9-1-1 – the call that we hope we never have to make. And it is time for all of us to do everything that we can to make Next Generation 9-1-1 a reality throughout the nation. So I will be introducing in the near future legislation to promote development and deployment of Next Generation 9-1-1 services and make this transition a success, and I invite my colleagues to work with me, on a bipartisan basis, on this effort.
I also want to renew my call yet again for the Senate to act on Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s re-nomination. She has waited far too long for floor action and for the distinguished Majority Leader to live up to his promises.
Thank you Mr. Chairman for calling today’s hearing.