A review of unique comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) before the GOP-controlled agency's deeply unpopular repeal of nationwide net neutrality regulations last year found that nearly all commenters were opposed to the move, according to a new Stanford study (pdf).
"Study after study after study has confirmed the same thing: an overwhelming majority of people from across the political spectrum support net neutrality and oppose the FCC's repeal."
—Evan Greer, Fight for the Future
Ryan Singel, a fellow at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society, focused specifically on more than 800,000 comments that data scientist Jeff Kao identified as "semantic outliers"—versus form letter and fraud campaigns—from the more than 22 million the FCC received ahead of its December party-line vote. Analysis of a sample of those comments revealed that 99.7 percent opposed repealing the 2015 net neutrality protections.
Contrary to claims and concerns that Americans don't understand the issue, Singel determined that commenters generally understood both what net neutrality is and why they benefit from regulations. He found that rural Americans as well as residents of both Democratic and Republican congressional districts support net neutrality protections, and there was a higher than average number of comments from districts with competitive midterm races.
"Despite the confusion sewed by astroturf campaigns, fraudulent comments, and a phony DDoS attack peddled by the agency's staff, study after study after study has confirmed the same thing: an overwhelming majority of people from across the political spectrum support net neutrality and oppose the FCC's repeal," Fight for the Future deputy director Evan Greer noted in a statement.
"Telecom lobbyists, FCC bureaucrats, and corrupt members of Congress have done everything in their power to downplay the massive grassroots opposition to last year's net neutrality repeal," she added. "But when you sift through all the noise, fake comments, bots, and BS you always find the truth: no one wants their cable company to charge more fees and control what they see and do on the internet."
So why did the FCC vote to repeal?
Why hasn't Congress intervened?
It's time for gov't. to LISTEN to the people.
— Free Press (@freepress) October 16, 2018
Even before the widely condemned rollback, the FCC came under fire during the mandatory public comment period for ignoring "a massive scheme to corrupt" the process with fraudulent submissions by bots and people impersonating lawmakers, journalists, and even the deceased.
"Washington is not listening to the American public. It's not right—and we need to keep up the fight."
—Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner
The agency and Trump-appointed Chairman Ajit Pai faced even more scrutiny two months ago, when an FCC Inspector General report debunked claims that the system was targeted by "distributed denial-of-service" (DDoS) attacks after television host John Oliver encouraged his audience to comment in favor of retaining the net neutrality rules. While the report found that agency officials made false and misleading statements about the commenting system, Pai maintains that he did nothing wrong.
Responding to the Stanford report on Twitter, Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel—who opposed the net neutrality repeal and had demanded an investigation into the fraudulent comments last year—declared: "Washington is not listening to the American public. It's not right—and we need to keep up the fight."
When you filter out fraud, bots and fake filings, 99.7% of unique comments at the @FCC favored #NetNeutrality. But the @FCC rolled back the rules anyway. Washington is not listening to the American public. It’s not right—and we need to keep up the fight.https://t.co/wLHqwjvPnv
— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) October 15, 2018
Digital rights advocates continue to pressure federal lawmakers to approve a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to reverse the repeal. While the CRA resolution passed the Senate in May, the measure is only backed by one House Republican. Battle for the Net recently launched a scoreboard constituents can use to track where their elected officials stand on the issue.
While the CRA is stalled in Congress, more than two dozen states attorneys general are fighting in court to undo the rollback. In the absence of federal regulations, multiple states have moved to reinstate net neutrality at the local level. While California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the "gold standard" of state measures at the end of last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and telecom giants are attempting to block it.