Out of every original comment sent to the US Federal Communications Commission about its Net Neutrality repeal proceedings, nearly all were against killing the regulations, according to a new Stanford University study. The study found that 99.7 per cent of non-duplicated comments were against a repeal.
The FCC requested public comments before the commission ultimately voted in December to kill net neutrality protections. But the forum was flooded with fake comments, many of which were submitted under false identities using emails belonging to journalists, lawmakers and dead people.
So Stanford researcher Ryan Singel set out to determine the viewpoints of the real comments. For his study, titled “Filtering Out the Bots: What Americans Actually Told the FCC about Net Neutrality Repeal”, Singel combed through the more than 22 million comments that were submitted to the FCC.
He used a machine learning program to weed out the millions of comments that were fakes and duplicates — as the duplicated messages were almost certainly part of a form letter campaign.
After he filtered out those submissions, he was left with about 800,000 unique comments. Out of all those comments only 0.3 per cent supported the repeal of net neutrality.
Singel found that not only were the unique comments overwhelmingly supportive of net neutrality — the statements “showed a nuanced understanding” of net neutrality policy, meaning “commenters grasp the issue”. He also found that many comments came from rural areas and Republican districts.
In a blog post about the study, Single wrote: “With the fog of fraud and spam lifted from the comment corpus, lawmakers and their staff, journalists, interested citizens and policymakers can use these reports to better understand what Americans actually said about the repeal of net neutrality protections and why 800,000 Americans went further than just signing a petition for a redress of grievances by actually putting their concerns in their own words.”
“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,” Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, said in a statement.
“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.”
The report also points out that many comments came from districts that had “toss-up races”, suggesting public opinions on net neutrality could have a major influence on the US midterm elections.