US trade commissioner says states' e-commerce laws hurt consumers

U.S. Federal Trade Commissioner Chairman Timothy J. Muris said state laws restricting Internet commerce are costing consumers as much as US$15 billion a year.

The FTC Wednesday said it will hold a workshop in October to study the effects of state laws on Internet commerce.

Muris said many state laws designed to protect brick-and-mortar businesses from online competition actually hurt consumers and hinder competition. The FTC will hold the workshop Oct. 8-10 in Washington.

"We're hoping to educate ourselves in this workshop and shed some light publicly about some of these restrictive practices," he said.

Muris said the workshop could spark further investigations and actions by the FTC, although the primary aim is to get a better idea of the global effect of state regulations.

The FTC noted that some states ban Internet sales unless the company has a physical presence in the state and prohibit the sale of certain products over the Internet. As an example, he pointed to actions the FTC has taken against laws in Connecticut regarding contact lenses. Connecticut restricted the sale of contact lenses online.

Up to this point, Muris said, the FTC has approached the subject of state laws on a case-by-case basis. But this fall's workshop will be the first by the FTC to look at the total impact of the laws, he said.

The workshop will help the FTC "connect the dots," said Ted Cruz, the FTC's director of policy planning. "We will look at the aggregate effect on e-commerce across the board."

The workshop will be open to the public and have panels including representatives from state and federal government, universities and a variety of industries.

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