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.

Filed Under: comments, fcc, net neutrality, transparency
Companies: american commitment, fight for the future, sunlight foundation


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  1. 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.

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