So Few Handwritten Anti-Net Neutrality FCC Comments, They Don't Even Show Up in Analysis Infographic
The public response to the Federal Communications Commission's open comment period for its controversial reformulation of its formerly Net Neutrality-friendly Open Internet rules has been huge -- the highest ever for an FCC policy procedure. Now one analysis of the comments shows the vast majority were pro-Net Neutrality. And there were so few unique "anti" comments they don't even register on the analysis' infographic.
Whether or not you agree with the FCC's new proposed policy for regulating Internet service providers, you have to hand it to the agency -- it's been accommodating and transparent when it comes to public comments on their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Open Internet Rules. After extending the deadline for comments due to an overwhelming response that took down the FCC's servers on a few occasions earlier this summer, last week the FCC released all of the public comments compiled into in a series of XML files so that anyone could analyze the overall public response.
Well, maybe not anyone. In total, the XML files equal about 1.4GB of information, not exactly an easy amount of data for even proficient Excel users to load up and analyze. Luckily, San Francisco data analysis company Quid ran a study of the comments (along with tweets and news coverage since January) for the Knight Foundation -- the early results of which subsequently ran on NPR's All Tech Considered blog on Thursday.
What did Quid find? According to NPR, several general themes emerged from the quarter-million comments studied, including the following:
15% -- A "pay-to-play" system will harm the diversity of the Internet
9% -- All content should be equally accessible
7% -- Need for equality in promoting the American Dream
7% -- "Fast lanes" will destroy the Internet
6% -- The government is corrupted by corporate interests
6% -- The new regulations would strengthen ISP monopolies, harming competition
5% -- "Fast lanes" [would] inhibit innovation
5% -- The new regulations would only help ISPs become more profitable
3% -- FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's telecom background is a conflict of interest
3% -- The new regulations allow big business to harm startups and the American people
What's interesting about the breakdown is that every theme that emerged from the comments in a solid, calculable single-digit-or-greater percentage were "pro" Net Neutrality, "anti" Open Internet rules proposed by the FCC, and/or "anti" ISP sentiment.
"Anti" Net Neutrality positions did exist within the comments but in such low numbers that they don't even register on Quid's analysis infographic. The phrase "FCC's crippling new regulations" appears, for example, but as NPR's Elise Hu noted, such positions were stated within comments that were submitted using form letters, also known as templates or robo-comments.
Quid set all template comments -- those that were not handwritten by distinct human authors -- into a single node on its infographic, since the firm was interested in tracking common sentiments that emerged from the aggregate of unique comments. This isn't a trick to downplay "anti" Net Neutrality comments, since all robo-forms were collapsed into a single node, which included four out of five template comments that were "pro" Net Neutrality.
Commenting using templates isn't an unusual practice, as many advocacy groups will set up a template letter for fellow advocates to help express their positions. Some policy decisions -- especially more technical, complicated ones -- get template-driven comments that make up as much as 80 percent of public input, according to NPR. The fact that the only half of the 1.1 million comments that came into the FCC's Open Internet NPRM were template-driven is actually pretty surprising.
More surprising still for the analysts at Quid were a couple of pro-Net Neutrality themes that emerged, which were completely outside of the set of talking points -- ISPs, monopolies, throttling, investment, Title II, Netflix, paid peering, fast lanes, etc. -- that have been generally circulating around the debate in the media.
These included themes about what it means to be American and how a neutral Internet corresponds to principals like the equal opportunity to express diverse opinions or how a truly Open Internet supports the American dream. At least one of those themes -- free speech -- made it into the top three words in TechCrunch's (simpler) keyword analysis of the FCC comments.
The fact that enough of these general "outsider" unique themes were expressed in the overall comments that they strongly manifested given these analyses suggests how decidedly un-technocratic a large portion of commenters must have been. That fact -- more than just the impressive number of comments -- lends weight to the view that the American public sees this policy decision commands particularly high stakes for their personal lives.
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