Tech Tops REALTORS®’ Talking Points

Net neutrality leads the list for this week’s legislative conference as experts discuss a range of pressing technological issues facing Congress and real estate professionals.

At the start of the 2018 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C., May 15, technology topics ranging from artificial intelligence to listing data were on the minds of members and other industry insiders. But the case most likely to make waves as members of the National Association of REALTORS® take to Capitol Hill this week is that of the openness of the internet itself.

At the meeting of the Federal Technology Policy Committee, Melanie Wyne—the committee’s staff executive and NAR senior policy representative—noted that technology doesn’t often make it to the top of the list of action items at the legislative meetings. Indeed, with net neutrality as one of four major talking points for members meeting with their representatives this week, this is only the second time ever that a technology policy issue has been elevated to such a high level for the Hill visits.

After the Federal Communications Commission eliminated rules that forbade ISPs from discriminating against content and information providers online late last year, NAR expressed concern about how such a move might negatively impact its members and consumers.

“The reason this matters is: Imagine there’s a large listing aggregator who has deep pockets,” Wyne told committee members, many of whom responded with knowing murmurs about the company, Zillow, she was presumably referring to. “Their content is going to get delivered faster than anyone else with content on the internet.”

Wyne told the committee that NAR members will be talking to their congressional representatives about two opportunities to correct the FCC decision. The U.S. Senate will consider a proposed congressional review act that would repeal the regulation as early as this Wednesday. Wyne predicted the CRA will pass, though not by a large margin. In the House, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) plans to introduce a bill called the 21st Century Internet Act to undo the actions of the FCC. Wyne noted that while NAR members will be lobbying lawmakers in favor of any action that will bolster net neutrality, the association would prefer a legislative solution, which would mean the topic would not be subject the whims of different administrations.

There’s also a possibility the FCC’s recent vote might be overturned by legal action. While NAR hasn’t yet weighed in on any particular challenge or lawsuit, Wyne noted that the association may file an amicus brief in favor of net neutrality down the road.

While this is a big issue for real estate pros, Wyne predicted that as long as there are congressional and legal actions in play, internet service providers will likely hold off on using their new powers to throttle online content or internet users. “I don’t think we have to be worried about the ISPs taking any dramatic action in the short term,” she said. “I don’t think they want to stir the pot any more than it’s already been stirred.”

One other issue that will soon see action on the technology and real estate front is the workshop on competitiveness in the industry that the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice have planned for June 5. As of Tuesday, NAR General Counsel Katie Johnson is a confirmed participant. Investigators will be looking at trending issues such as dual agency, pocket listings, and the sharing of listing data. Wyne told committee members that the association believes the facts will support their case that the real estate industry has never been more competitive than it is today. “We feel very confident,” she said. “There’s more listing data available to consumers than ever before.”

The committee also heard discussed other topics at the intersection of federal policy and technology, including data privacy and security, wire fraud cases, artificial intelligence, and a federal challenge to MLS’ claims to compilation copyright.

Aleksandar Velkoski, a data scientist with NAR’s research group, told the committee that while it may seem that the industry is behind the curve on artificial intelligence, big data, and other issues, that’s not what the data shows. “That actually is not true,” Velkoski told the committee. “Only 4 percent of organizations are currently invested and deployed with artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

Still, he told the committee their work and other, less formal gatherings of real estate professionals who are watching progress in this arena can help ensure that new technologies don’t harm the real estate industry or consumers.

“Concerns are real, and there are things that need to be addressed,” he told the committee, offering the example of banks that might use data that is correlated with race to make lending decisions. “From a policy perspective, we need to be ready for that.”