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.

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Comments on “98.5% Of Original Comments To The FCC Oppose Killing Net Neutrality”

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63 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

They ask for comment so that they can attempt to give the appearance of acting in the people’s interest. If they were to get even close to equal support for killing it they’d be able to go “well, it was a contested issue, but we’ve decided to go with this with the support of many citizens”.

If you really want to buy into conspiracy theories. They might have only decided to do it BECAUSE they knew some one would be stuffing the ballot box full of bot generated comments in favor of what they wanted to do in the first place. They probably figured, their bot would far out do the number of real comments, and probably figured no one would look into the comments too carefully.

Aaron Walkhouse (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Remember the "Muslim Bans" and how they were blocked?

Trump’s “government” is sued for overreaches like these quite often,
and in this case they are probably expecting it because the FCC is
specifically forbidden to reverse public policy in such an impulsive
way and without proof that actual facts have changed to make such
a U-turn necessary for the public good.

The internet has not changed radically since the Obama administration
and the vast majority of Americans are supporting net neutrality through
Title II status so yes, they will be sued, they will lose and then use the
false narrative of “rogue courts” to try to pass anti-neutrality legislation
to work around the obstacle. ‌ At that, they might also fail.

Watch that bill as they cook it up. ‌ They will pretend it supports
neutrality while crafting it to do the exact opposite.

No doubt the industry lawyers have already started on that in secret. ‌ ;]

Toom1275 (profile) says:

A lot of the "bogus" comments using "fake" e-mail addresses were determined to be using email addresses provided from known "temp-mail" services. I don’t think all of these can be dismissed outright as not being made from real people. As the anti-NN bots had already demonstrated, someone is already gladly committing identity theft there. Using a ephemeral email seems more like a strategy by security-minded commenters to protect against having their emails scraped and used against them.

On that note, AT$T has already twisted this report’s findings to claim that 69.9% of comments oppose NN, by both:
A: claiming that all comments with "fake" emails, like the ones I mentioned above, are all exclusively fake, and
B: claiming that all comments with "real" addresses including the bot-generated anti-NN comments using stolen credentials are "valid".

compujas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Because it’s an incredibly easy logical jump to make. MANY people, especially technically oriented people, use disposable/temp-mail e-mail addresses for things like this because of the reasons Toom mentioned (ie. avoiding having their e-mails scraped and added to a spam list).

Also note that Toom did not say “All of those temp-mail comments are real”, but instead said “I don’t think all of these can be dismissed outright” simply because they used temp-mail. Those two statements are not equal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yes, there are many out there who practice good surfing habits …. while this number is growing steadily, it is still a very small portion of the overall population. In general, people still do very stupid things on the internet. What percentage of the many fake comments do you think are incorrectly labeled due to this suggested scenario …. 5%? … 10%? Those would be very significant numbers, I doubt people are that knowledgeable but I’m a pessimist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Myself and I'm sure 98.5% are for Mom and apple pie too!

“Net neutrality” is promoted as entirely good, though no one can define it. Just free floating warm and fuzzies.

Care to take a stab at defining it, comprehensively and rigidly enough that corporations won’t eventually shunt it aside? — Yeah, me neither. — There’s no enforcement left in the corporatized gov’t, anyway.

So, with the lack of definition and certainty that corporations won’t bother following any actual restrictions, I keep asking: WHO CARES ABOUT THE COMMENTS?

Just drop complaining and STATE what you want “net neutrality” to actually BE. While you’re still on the comments, both rules and dodges of rules are being crafted.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Myself and I'm sure 98.5% are for Mom and apple pie too!

“”Net neutrality” is promoted as entirely good, though no one can define it”

Well, apart from the solid, defined definitions of what it means, you’re right.

Seriously, we’re this far into the discussion and people are still feigning ignorance of what it means?

“Just drop complaining and STATE what you want “net neutrality” to actually BE.”

ISPs being classed as common carriers and required to treat all packets the same, regardless of source, destination and content.

It’s really not a hard concept to grasp.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Myself and I'm sure 98.5% are for Mom and apple pie too!

You’ve just come to my point: “defining it, comprehensively and rigidly enough that corporations won’t eventually shunt it aside?”

So you contradicted by knee-jerk without bothering to examine my conditions which you both now state as if obvious.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Why the comments are going one way and one way only is pretty simple: The other side doesn’t really stand for anything in particular.

It’s on the level of asking people a room full of people with peanut allergies if they want nuts on the McSundae ice cream. Those who are there are there for a reason, and they will have a strong opinion. So in this case, 98.5% of people with a strong opinion about something very nebulous have the same opinion.

In other news, the sky appears blue to the human eye.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So, your point being? We should ignore the vast majority of comments because the other side couldn’t be bothered to say something?

There is, of course, another explanation – virtually nobody actually supports removing net neutrality protections. But, as per usual, you’ll ignore any alternative options to the one you made up.

compujas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“We should ignore the vast majority of comments because the other side couldn’t be bothered to say something?”

Actually, in certain cases, yes. When comments heavily lean in one direction, if it can be shown that all or nearly all of those comments come from a group with a commonality, and few if any comments came from an opposing side, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the comments represent the population, or even a majority.

In other words, if 98% of comments came from 5% of a population, it doesn’t mean that 98% of the population feels that way. To use the McSundae metaphor, if 98.5% of comments said “no peanuts”, but those comments were all from people with a peanut allergy, representing (for example) 5% of the total population, that doesn’t mean that the entire population is represented by those 5% necessarily (they may be, but not necessarily).

There are plenty of other cases that this can happen as well. I’m not saying it is the case here with NN, just responding to your initial argument.

ryuugami says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

If you asked an astrophysics question and 98% of the comments were from physicists and all leaned in the same direction, shouldn’t that tell you something?

And if you asked a climate question and 98% of the comments were from climate scientists and all leaned in the same direction, shouldn’t that tell you something?

Waaait a minute… 🙂

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You nailed it (better than I could explain, and thanks).

The question is the sample group. NN commenters are “self selecting” rather than being actively searched out. It’s not like 1000 people were randomly called and asked their opinion. Instead, people who felt strongly about NN posted comments.

People who are for the currently (not totally implemented) net neutrality rules feel strongly about it, and thus are writing comments.

People who don’t feel strongly about net neutrality pretty much say “meh” and not much else, and cannot be bothered to make a comment to explain why it’s not important to them.

People here try to frame it as “for” or “against”. The reality is that it is “for” and “don’t care”. Don’t care types don’t write comments. They don’t care.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It’s less “for” and “don’t care” and more “for” and “don’t understand”. Generally once you explain to people what NN is, they are for it. Though I guess you could still argue that many of the “don’t understand”s are because they don’t care to become informed.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

People don’t care to be informed because it’s not relevant to them.

If you explain it to them in pro-net neutrality terms, they will probably agree with. Then again, on anti-net neutrality terms, they could also agree if that is the only side of the story they hear.

My point is only that if most of the population is apathetic about net neutrality or have the opinion of “meh”, they won’t bother to fill out comments either way. So saying “98.5% are against” is meaningless because it’s 98.5% of people who are versed enough on the subject, and they are generally all for net neutrality if they are interested in the topic.

When you consider that the total comments reaches a level of about 1% of the population, that sort of explains it all.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“So saying “98.5% are against” is meaningless because it’s 98.5% of people who are versed enough on the subject, and they are generally all for net neutrality if they are interested in the topic.”

So, we should wait until there’s enough interest from people who are totally ignorant on the subject, since people who know what they’re talking about will be biased? I suppose that would make sense to your feeble mind.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

It doesn’t really matter though, because if you take that line of thinking and apply it elsewhere then basically no poll or survey is of any use. The current estimated population of the US as of 2016 was in the 323 million range, would you likewise dismiss any survey or request for comments that didn’t have at least a majority of that chiming in?

What would it matter for example if a random survey finds that seventy-five out of a hundred people asked say that they do not enjoy people smacking them upside the head, when it’s entirely possible that a large percentage of people who weren’t asked do enjoy that? Maybe they just asked the ‘right’/’wrong’ people and got a skewed result?

The overwhelming majority of people that know about the subject and were motivated enough to jump through the hoops to file an official comment on it are on one side, the pro-network neutrality side.

If the opinions on the subject were really as unsettled as you seem to be making it out to be I’d expect a much larger difference in position, which does not seem to be the case, and while you may try to undercut that by saying that it might not reflect the opinions of the general public that might very well be the case, but we don’t have that data to prove it.

The data we do have shows an overwhelming support for the rules, and when making decisions, arguments or setting positions you go with the data you have, not what the data might be.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

So, like I’ve said elsewhere, in that case no poll, referendum or survey is valid in your mind. By definition, unless you have mandatory participation, you will have a bias toward people who are interested and motivated enough to take part. It’s a self-selecting process in its nature, since the general public is largely neither knowledgable or interested enough to participate in such technical discussions.

Which is absolutely fine, unless you’re just being contrarian and have to find a way to question things because you can’t argue with the facts stated. If all we’re left with is “people with knowledge of the technology and businesses involved are against it” rather than “the general public are against it”, that’s a high enough standard for me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“It’s on the level of asking people a room full of people with peanut allergies if they want nuts on the McSundae ice cream. Those who are there are there for a reason, and they will have a strong opinion. “

Interesting … and therefore –
users of the Internet all agree that they do not like ISP bullshit, which happens to include violating net neutrality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

While interesting (and part of a good QI segment), that’s just a vocabulary quirk. In the same way that English has Robin Redbreast and Redhead to describe things colored orange because English lacked a distinct word for orange until well after those things were named.

Many current languages have one word for blue and green, for example. http://allthingslinguistic.com/post/29420661838/language-and-colour-terms (There’s also a link in this article to a RadioLab segment on exactly the vocabulary quirk you mentioned and more.)

There’s also an interesting pattern to the way languages grow names for colors. https://www.vox.com/videos/2017/5/16/15646500/color-pattern-language

Sorry for the derail.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The coolest article I ever read was on the fact that if you don’t have a term for a color, you can’t distinguish it from a similar color you DO have a term for. They then show you a “solid blue” screen. Then they show you a bunch of different shades of blue, giving each their proper name. Then they direct you back to that page with the “solid blue” screen… and you see it’s actually a bunch of different shades of blue that you just learned the names of. Cool as f–k!

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Upcoming industry analysis

All those people who sent form emails, all those people who sent email from a robot and fake addresses, those are merely members of grassroot organizations. They’re obviously most important for determining the will of the people.

As for those people who send hand-tailored messages, well obviously they didn’t care enough to send the very best. So they don’t matter at all.

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