Bizarre Fight Commences Over Who 'Won' Latest Net Neutrality Comment Round

from the doesn't-matter dept

Back in October, we pointed out the pointlessness of focusing on who sent more comments to the FCC over net neutrality, as there appeared to be a whole lot of astroturfing and misleading tactics being used to ratchet up the counts. That didn't mean that the commenting and looking at the information wasn't useful -- it is -- but there was little value in a purely "numbers" based focus on how many comments were filed from those "for" or "against." With so many coming from various online forms, the weight they would have on the final FCC decision is about as close to nil as possible.

However... an interesting sort of fight has broken out about all of this. The Sunlight Foundation released an analysis this week of the second round of FCC comments on net neutrality (technically these are supposed to be "in response" to the first round, but they were basically just another chance to say the same things all over again. The Sunlight Foundation noted that this time, an anti-net neutrality group (the same one we discussed as our example of totally misleading crap being pushed in the FCC's direction) apparently convinced many hundreds of thousands of people to send in one of its incredibly misleading comments, all of which will be promptly ignored. The Sunlight Foundation's analysis claimed that the majority of the comments in round two came from this group, American Commitment, which completely incorrectly told people that net neutrality was about a "left-wing extremist..." "takeover of the internet." Which, frankly, is bullshit. You can disagree with net neutrality without lying, but American Commitment didn't seem to be able to do that. Still, its lies certainly did convince lots of people to click "send" on its outrage-o-matic machine.

American Commitment then took the Sunlight Foundation's announcement and literally declared itself the winner of who filed the most comments. Except... not only were there clear limitations in the data, which the Sunlight Foundation got from the FCC's public release, many on the pro-net neutrality side started pointing out that the numbers are clearly incorrect. They know how many letters were sent from their side -- and the numbers from the FCC's release (which Sunlight used) appeared to vastly undercount the actual filings.

Fight for the Future then dug into the data itself and argued that the FCC and Sunlight Foundation screwed up in counting the comments, "dropping at least 244,881 pro-net neutrality comments." The Sunlight Foundation shot back that it thinks Fight for the Future made its own mistakes in the data analysis.

Finally, I've spoken to multiple people inside the FCC who are now admitting that something clearly went wrong with the data that it released -- so it's going back and doing a recount itself. We should know more on the results soon, but it sounds like there's a good chance that the original data that Sunlight relied on may have had some problems.

There are two big takeaways from this, neither of which are really related to all the sniping going on:
  1. The exact count still doesn't fucking matter. This isn't a popularity contest. It's about doing what's right for the future of the internet and the American public who uses it.
  2. The FCC's technology needs a massive upgrade. The technology that the FCC uses to bring in these comments is decades old and is simply not designed (at all) for this level of public participation. And the problem there is Congress, which refuses to allocate any budget at all to the FCC to improve its own computer systems. This was part of the reason why the whole system went down during the first comment period. And no matter what you think of the FCC, at the very least we should be able to agree that better transparency and openness is important, and to do that, the FCC should have computer systems that were at least built in the modern era.
Other than that, this whole numbers game of who hit the outrage-o-matic button harder seems like a distraction from the main point: the future of the internet.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Christenson, 17 Dec 2014 @ 3:17pm

    Outrage-omatic Pops the Dice...

    Outrage-omatic Pops the Dice
    You pop double you lose twice!

    LOL, anyone else remember that catchy 1970s TV ad?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2014 @ 3:50pm

    Usage Caps

    I am encouraged by the FCC planning to up broadband to 10Mbps download. Perhaps they should have increased the upstream speed as well.

    As to usage caps, Cable ISPs already have that: It's called 25Mbps, 50Mbps, 100Mbps, etc. The more I'm willing to pay, the higher my cap.

    Let's see, 24 hours x 50Mbps x 30 =

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    RD, 17 Dec 2014 @ 4:17pm

    No matter who "won" that debate, the loser is "the american consumer."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 17 Dec 2014 @ 4:51pm

    Enlist the NSA

    FCC (or any other government department having this problem) just needs to send a short missive to NSA for help:

    "We think a terrorist wrote one of these messages. And, um, while you're looking for that message, could you summarize the rest of them for us?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Andrew Norton (profile), 17 Dec 2014 @ 5:01pm

    I know I had a conversation with Gigi (https://twitter.com/GigiBSohnFCC/status/497534413354586113) and David Bray (https://twitter.com/fcc_cio/status/511685826208874497) about my comments not showing up on the system. Even now, search for "Andrew Norton" and you won't find it under that proceeding (you have to know the confirmation number to find it the second time I submitted it)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Andrew Norton (profile), 17 Dec 2014 @ 5:07pm

    (and if anyone's interested/skeptical, here's the search for "Andrew Norton" in that proceeding. None are in Ga, or 15 pages.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Unanimous Cow Herd, 17 Dec 2014 @ 5:13pm

    I would be willing to bet..

    Most of the people in executive positions at the FCC will are asking their grand kids for help with their new iPad this Christmas.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    toyotabedzrock (profile), 17 Dec 2014 @ 8:42pm

    We do live in a democratic society so numbers do matter. Provided the submissions where not obtained via deception.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2014 @ 6:23am

    What does it matter, and to whom?

    If they are really interested in what the people want (they are not) then they would seek a vote at the national level. Otherwise it is just a lot of hot air coming from a bunch of overinflated gas bags.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 18 Dec 2014 @ 7:52am

    Bandwagon

    This is just people trying to use the "bandwagon" propaganda technique: people will tend to agree with whatever proposition they think most other people agree with, so these groups want to convince everyone that the position they are taking is the one that is the most popular.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer
Anonymous number for texting and calling from Hushed. $25 lifetime membership, use code TECHDIRT25
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.