98.5% Of Original Comments To The FCC Oppose Killing Net Neutrality
from the ignoring-the-will-of-the-people dept
Let’s not mince words: the FCC’s plan to gut net neutrality protections in light of severe public opposition is likely one of the more bare-knuckled acts of cronyism in modern technological and political history. That’s because the rules have overwhelming, bipartisan support from the vast majority of consumers, most of whom realize the already imperfect rules are some of the only consumer protections standing between consumers and giant, uncompetitive companies like Comcast. Repealing the rules only serves one interest: that of one of the least liked, least-competitive industries in America.
That said, the broadband industry and the FCC keep trying to obfuscate this reality, and failing. The latest example: a new study funded by the industry itself took a closer look at the 21.8 million comments filed with the FCC so far on its plan to roll back the rules, and found, once again, the vast majority of the citizens the agency is supposed to represent oppose the FCC’s plan. The full study was conducted by consulting firm Emprata and funded by Broadband for America, a lobbying front organization backed by Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Charter and most large wireless carriers.
As we’ve consistently reported, somebody has been backing an attempt to fill the FCC’s comment proceeding with entirely bogus, bot-crafted support for the FCC’s plan. There have even been bogus comments filed in support of killing net neutrality made in my name (which the FCC has said they’ll do nothing about). The Emprata study found that even including this farmed detritus, the majority of the comments are in favor of retaining the rules. Including spam, bot-posts, and form letters (the latter being used by both sides), the study found 60% were opposed to the FCC’s plan.
But when the firm only analyzed original comments coming from actual human beings, it found that 98.5% of original comments filed support keeping the rules intact. And while form letters are utilized by both sides of this asymmetrical debate to galvanize public action, the study also found very few original comments in support of Ajit Pai and friends’ handout to the telecom sector:
“[T]here are considerably more “personalized” comments (appearing only once in the docket) against repeal (1.52 million) versus 23,000 for repeal. Presumably, these comments originated from individuals that took the time to type a personalized comment. Although these comments represent less than 10 percent of the total, this is a notable difference.”
The overwhelming majority of comments for and against repealing Title II are form letters (pre-generated portions of text) that appear multiple times in the docket. The form letters likely originated from numerous sources organized by groups that were for or against the repeal of Title II. Form letters comprise upwards of 89.8 percent of comments against Title II repeal and upwards of 99.6 percent of the comments for Title II repeal.
Again, this supports numerous, previous studies indicating that net neutrality protections have broad, bipartisan support. Other cable industry funded studies have found the same thing. There’s no debate here: the FCC is engaged in killing rules solely so it’s easier for entrenched duopolists to abuse the lack of competition in the broadband space. And while ISPs and the FCC like to idiotically frame this as restoring freedom or other such nonsense, the public — after years of abuse by this dysfunctional sector — doesn’t appear to be quite as stupid as the industry and its allies hoped.
Meanwhile, the study also zooms in more closely on the scope of the fraudulent comment problem the FCC seems intent on ignoring, claiming that bogus bots are submitting comments to the FCC both in support and opposition to rule repeal. In fact, 7.75 million comments appear to be completely bogus:
“More than 7.75 million comments… appear to have been generated by self-described ‘temporary’ and ‘disposable’ e-mail domains attributed to FakeMailGenerator.com and with nearly identical language. Virtually all of those comments oppose repealing Title II. Assuming that comments submitted from these e-mail domains are illegitimate, sentiment favors repeal of Title II (61 percent for, 38 percent against).”
Who’s doing this isn’t clear, and the FCC has refused to investigate. Someone that supports net neutrality could have crafted a bot to spam the system with comments opposing the FCC’s plan. But it’s also possible an industry-linked opponent to net neutrality is trying to pollute the entire comment system to invalidate the entire public forum. That’s why former FCC staffers like Gigi Sohn are urging the FCC to do its own analysis of the comments instead of relying on data from the telecom industry:
“August 30th could very well mark the official beginning of the end for the Open Internet. With the closing of the public comment period for the FCC?s proceeding to repeal the 2015 Net Neutrality rules, the record is now full of tens of millions of comments, many of them demonstrably fake. Incredibly, it doesn’t even matter if the facts are real or alternative because Chairman Pai intends to ignore them all so that he can eliminate the rules and protections for Internet users and innovators as quickly as possible – which also explains why he refuses to make public information that is critical to his FCC’s decision making.”
Any real FCC inquiry is unlikely to happen, and the FCC appears poised to use the bogus comments to justify ignoring public feedback entirely when it votes to finally kill the rules in the next few months. That’s when the real fun begins, as all of the agency’s efforts to downplay vicious public opposition to its plan (including apparently fabricating a DDoS attack) will be front and center in the inevitable lawsuits to come.