The "Sharing" Economy: Issues Facing Platforms, Participants, and Regulators A Federal Trade Commission Workshop
As a new user and host on the AirBNB platform, I am very pleased at the range of benefits that this service has for my guests, my community, and myself. Many of my guests have been travelers who are looking for a personal connection with the places that they visit. I am able to tell them about my favorite places, suggest my favorite restaurants, and give them a sense of the place I call home. I can also see real economic benefit to my small community as these travelers dine, shop, and tour (and I also have contracted with a local housecleaner). And finally, I am making a substantial income on the quarters in my home which I have made available through AirBnb. AirBNB makes the business aspects of offering this service very accessible and streamlined. I hope I never have to use their insurance policy, but this is a great benefit. The AirBNB system of verifications and reviews (of both hosts and travelers) provides a substantial degree of accountability and seems very effective at keeping everyone on their best behavior. As for competition, I do not feel that the room that I provide via AirBNB is directly competing with other hospitality options in my area. There are few lodging opportunities within a 15 mile radius of my house, and as I mentioned before, many of my guests aren't looking for a hotel room. If congress wishes to make the most of the sharing economy, I would suggest: 1. Give greatest benefit to occupant homeowners who participate in this program; these are the entrepreneurs who provide the most personal service, and need the greatest protection. 2. Influence the reform of local zoning regulations; many localities ban 'vacation rentals' of less than one month, whereas AirBnb guests are in many ways more like family visitors. 3. Influence the availability of homeowners insurance to assure coverage that would protect a homeowner participating in a shared economy home business model such as AirBNB. 4. Allow states, counties, and municipalities to tax, if necessary, the service, but streamline and standardize the collection and application of such taxes so that national and international businesses such as AirBnB (and new enterprises which follow) can maintain a national internet business without having to create separate tax policies and practices for every small community they might do business in. 5. Consider appropriate privacy protections for both hosts and guests, who value the fact that AirBnb tracks their performance for accountability purposes, but would not want their business or travel history to be available to third parties. 6. Assure that the internet will continue to be a rich infrastructure for innovation. Specifically, require content providers to divest their internet infrastructure business. The internet should be like a utility, and should not be owned by any company that has a competing interest with any other company doing business on the internet. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.