99.7% Of Original Comments Opposed FCC Repeal Of Net Neutrality

from the not-so-democratic dept

A new study has once again confirmed that the vast, vast majority of the public opposed the FCC’s ham-fisted repeal of net neutrality.

Like most government proceedings, the FCC’s net neutrality killing order’s public comment period was filled will all manner of comments (both in favor and against) generated by automatic letter-writing campaigns. Like most government proceedings in the post-truth era, the net neutrality repeal was also plagued by a lot of shady gamesmanship by companies trying to disguise the fact that the government was simply kissing the ass of giant, unpopular telecom monopolies. But what happens if you eliminated all of the letter-writing campaign and bogus bot-comments?

A new report from Stanford University (pdf) did just that. It eliminated all automated or form-generated comments and found just 800,000 Americans willing to take the time to put their own, original thoughts on the net neutrality repeal into words. And of those 800,000 real people, 99.7% of them opposed what the FCC did:

“The unique comments are overwhelmingly in support of retaining the protections of the 2015 Open Internet Order. A manual analysis of 1,000 of these comments showed that 99.7% of the comments opposed the repeal.”

That’s not to say that form-letters opposed to the repeal should be ignored; millions of angry Americans voiced their concerns via form letter campaigns operated by (actual) consumer groups like Public Knowledge, Free Press, and the EFF. Previous analysis has indicated that even among these form letters, the vast majority opposed Ajit Pai’s assault on meaningful consumer protections. Even studies funded by ISP-backed lobbying organizations have come to this same conclusion, making the FCC’s claims that everybody supported its attack on net neutrality even more patently absurd.

Meanwhile, like countless surveys before it, the Stanford report also once again notes that this opposition was largely bipartisan in nature, coming from heavily “red” and “blue” districts alike:

“Polls have consistently shown that net neutrality protections are popular across party lines. This is supported by the geographical breakdown of the comments. While the highest number of unique comments come from traditionally Democratic urban districts, the average number of comments in all districts was 1,489, with an average of 1,202 in Republican-held districts”

Again, that’s in stark contrast to claims that people “don’t understand what net neutrality is” or that this somehow isn’t an important issue to voters. Most Americans have pretty direct, first-hand experience of what it’s like to deal with an apathetic broadband monopoly, whether it’s AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, or Charter. As such, disgust at these companies is one of the very few things that bridges the country’s deep, partisan divides. And most realize then letting Comcast abuse a broken, uncompetitive market doesn’t end well for consumers or competitors alike.

Past analysis has suggested about half of the 22 million comments submitted to the FCC were likely fake, and somebody utilized a bot and hacked databases to flood the FCC with fake support for the FCC’s plan. The GAO, New York State AG, and numerous lawsuits are still busy trying to get to the bottom of the obvious effort to try and drown out legitimate opposition with no real help from the FCC, which was eager to ignore the entire mess for what should be obvious reasons.

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Comments on “99.7% Of Original Comments Opposed FCC Repeal Of Net Neutrality”

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James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: But what if...

Well, looking at the methodology in the study, the dataset was derived from a machine learning algorithm, which identified various form letter ‘campaigns’ by near identical verbiage. This process identified ~150 different campaigns, and was left with ~800,000 comments that were ‘semantic outliers’, that is the comments were not similar to any identified campaign, nor did they appear as a new unidentified campaign.

These are labeled as unique comments.

I suppose in the end it depends on how much of your commentary was original and the tolerances of the algorithm.

Anonymous Coward says:

FCC: Woohoo! 0.3% agree with us!

FCC: “0.3%% Of original comments support FCC repeal of net neutrality. This overwhelming support from the American public shows us that we are on the right path towards dismantling burdensome and unnecessary regulation of our beloved cable and internet providers.”

“Fear not, we have heard your overwhelming response loud and clear. We will do everything in our power to allow you to have complete freedom of choice in who and how you choose to get your TV and internet. No longer will the FCC or any government body step in. Let the free market prevail.”

[hispers] “mmmuuahahahahahahahahahaha…”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: FCC: Woohoo! 0.3% agree with us!

Pai: “All I am doing is supporting minorities with these new rules. 0.3% is definitely a minority. That is what you libs care about right? Why do you hate minorities so much that you are willing to completely ignore them?”

[FCC walks into courtroom carrying bags of printed out letters. Dumps them on the desk of the pro-net neutrality team:]
“We have done the math and cannot ignore the 2,400 respondents who affirmatively stood behind our actions. Look at all of these letters! How can you ignore that we are doing the right thing for all of them?”

Pro-net neutrality team:
“We have dump trucks of letters going against you? Not four measly bags you made your interns print out in triplicate.”

“But you can’t fit those dump trucks in here, so those letters do not count. WIN US!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: FCC: Woohoo! 0.3% agree with us!

Ah; but to Pai, not all support is con$idered equal.

That 0.3% of original comments was all comments that were informed and from people who can have an impact on the industry. The rest was obviously from people believing the misinformation.

So 100% of that 0.3% supported Pai’s move, proving that it was the right deci$ion.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Contrast with Broadband for America’s methodology:

If you just exclude the comments from real people who wrote their own comments but protected themselves from scraping criminals by using an ephemeral email address as illegitimate, and you treat every bot-subnitted comment as legitimate so long as its stolen credentials are valid, then suddenly the overwhelming oppositition magically turns into 70% support for PaiSP’s Reinforcing Internet Fuckery order.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

got a response from him already

“If it was an attached file, it wasn’t included in the comments that were analyzed. That’s an advanced method usually used by groups / companies. Sorry to have missed yours”

so, not a biggie, it was what I thought it would be.

And for anyone interested, here’s my comment https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filing/10718674924132 (30 pages)

and my comment response (where I dismantle the claims of the 3 biggest form submissions, which is what a comment-response is for, commenting on other comments)
https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filing/1083022614992 (22 pages)

Homer Sampson says:

Throw out all deemed "phony", then select a small sample...

Proves nothing.

Since Bode is apparently limited to run this OLD schtick forever, solely whining about the process while unable to instance any ill effects, I’ll try to make a comprehensive list of objections:

  • It was NEVER a "vote", only required by law.

  • Millions of comments can only be sampled.

  • ONLY those highly interested even knew of it, until picked up for clickbait headlines.

  • Nerds are easily provoked, especially pirates who fear getting infringed content will be reduced.

  • The comment system was indeed overwhelmed, because assumed a few thoughtful people with perspective, not every nerd alarmed by lies of disaster — as put out here at TD.

  • Phony "against" comments were ginned up by John Oliver telling viewers to call in.

[Likely more in future. I’m distracted by one of Masnick’s ongoing fears: that Google will have to obey a court and implement "right to be forgotten".]

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


I’m distracted by one of Masnick’s ongoing fears: that Google will have to obey a court and implement "right to be forgotten".

Not that I enjoy off-topic bullshit (as much as you might think), but I have a question here: What makes you supportive of forcing Google to remove links to legitimate factual information about a person because that person is embarassed by those facts?

Anonymous Coward says:

This is irrelevant

Look, we aren’t a full democracy, where every law gets voted on by the people. That’s why we have representatives in Congress, and they are supposed to represent the people, or the states (depending on whether they are House or Senate respectively). The general public is subject to the whimsy of emotions and folly, and cooler heads in Congress are supposed to prevail.

And this isn’t even in the area of establishing laws – this is a federal agency defining policies and rules. I.e., it’s even further removed from voters than anything Congress enacts.

So it really doesn’t matter what the “popularity” numbers among the voters are. The President isn’t a representative of the people, he/she is supposed to guard the constitution, and enforce the laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This is irrelevant

They’re important in that they show the desire of people. But that’s irrelevant – “the people” can desire totally wrong, or unconstitutional things.

Unless it’s established in law, policies will always be at the whim of the admin in power at the time.

There are other ways to prevent the problems that NN was supposed to address. Though I’m not saying that the current admin is doing any of those – it would be great if they would address the issues through making sure that real competition and market forces are able to work.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Re: This is irrelevant

parts of the requirements for rulemaking is that the rules are based on evidence and fact.
These rules weren’t.

In fact they made almost identical arguments that were made in 05 for the LAST time they took ISPs from Title 2 to Title 1.
And those claims were proven invalid by 10 years of title 1 activities.

Now you could claim exemption to that based on ‘public interest’, and thats where the content of the comments comes in – the comments were overwhelmingly in favor of the rules, thus that’s what the public interest is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This is irrelevant

Democracy versus republic is as silly a discusson as you can get them. “Elective democracy” and “Constitutional republic” are pretty damn rarely mutually exclusive (you elected your congressmen to listen, but also for them to educate themself on particularly the constitution so you dont need to waste time on it! That is why disposition on subjects is often more important than actual campaign promises in elections.).

The situation around FCC is more a question of “rule of law” (What can they do to legislate before they undermine the congressional vestage? Ie. The 2015 implementation and Pais retraction are both problematic from the constitutional view and even more so for the degenerate congress). FCC should never be a substitute for congress regardless… Additionally you still have to question the way such information-gathering is done when it results in such a cluster-beep of identity-theft and a large variety of frauds. If an agency goes rogue, it both violates “Elective democracy” and “Constitutional republic”.

You are not able to bail FCC out on that account – the president should mostly stay the hell away from FCCs work since he is merely vested in enforcement.
Neither is their process irrelevant. That is where the president actually has a role: In clamping down on the illegal actions during the process!

ECA (profile) says:

And still..

Contracts and promises…not fulfilled.
And the FCC not setting up testing locations to decide anything.
Its like “we all know whats happening.” and “no body is listening”
so they both sides do NOTHING.

Or a large group thats responsible for monitoring and Making SURE things get done, is getting paid off, not to pay attention to whats happened.

Im still amazed that I get better Service/speed/prices in the middle of nowhere…then I would in a major metro.

TRX (profile) says:

> eliminated all automated or form-generated comments

“I want to believe…”

…but, no matter what criteria they might claim to have used to determine if comments were automated or form-generated, this is nearly a poster child for “cherry-picking the dataset.”

Well, it *is* from Stanford, after all. Their academic standards have sunk so low, they probably wouldn’t understand what they did wrong if you tried to explain it to them.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

When you’re searching for an evaluation on public involvement, removing those that take only a few clicks and have a significantly non-zero chance of being fraudulent or otherwise non-representative is a good way to remove the flotsam.

those that have anything other than the most minor of interests in the topic one way or another would be motivated to do more than just click a half dozen buttons. So call it a minimum barrier to activity.

If there was strong opposition, it’d show in a lot of opposing comments (which there were) while strong support would show in strong supporting comments. Additionally, by focusing on the non-form comments, you can then see what the general understanding of the topic is. In this case, from reading a few thousand, the majority seemed to be fairly well informed on both the generality and the overall specifics on the case at issue. This was not the case for a lot of the form submissions, especially the ones against which often veered into lunacy and irrelevancy.

In short, eliminating the minimum effort responses (and yes, they also excluded the high-end comments, by experts on the topic, see my comment above) is not only scientifically valid, it also gives a statistically better overview of general public sentiment and the depth of knowledge behind that.

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