The Sunlight Foundation released a study on the FCC Open Internet comments this week. What did they find? An overwhelming majority of the public is in favor of Net Neutrality, unsurprisingly.

A couple of weeks ago we took a look at a preliminary study on the reported 1.1 million comments received about the Federal Communication Commission's proposed changes to the Open Internet rules, which Net Neutrality advocates say will harm the future of the Internet. The most interesting feature of that study -- which took a sample of the comments into analysis -- was that so few anti-Net Neutrality comments were found that they didn't even appear on the study's infographic.

Now the Sunlight Foundation has performed a much more in depth analysis of the FCC comments, finding that only 1 percent of comments were clearly opposed to Net Neutrality.

(Photo : Sunlight Foundation)

Like the previous analysis performed by Quid for the Knight Foundation, Sunlight found that 60 percent of comments were so-called "form letters" or robo-comments, submitted through organized campaigns recruiting members of the public to sign on to a pre-written statement. This is actually lower than most public comments on matters of policy, indicating that many more people took the time to write something themselves on the issue of the Open Internet rules and Net Neutrality.

Classifying the Majority of Pro-Net Neutrality Comments


Looking into the most frequently used keywords, Sunlight found that about two-thirds of commenters, both form-submitted and free-written, were against the FCC's "paid prioritization" proposal -- to allow Internet service providers to deliver certain paying services and sites faster, as long as the deals are not "commercially unreasonable" -- which critics have called the "fast lane" idea. In fact, "slow/fast lane," "pay to play," "Netflix," and "divide" were all telling keywords associated with these comments.

Two-thirds of comments were also pretty well versed in U.S. policy, telling the FCC to go beyond its current Open Internet proposal -- or even the relatively Net Neutrality-friendly 2010 Open Internet rules, which were struck down in federal court earlier this year, leading to this whole kerfuffle -- to reclassify ISPs as "common carriers" under the Communications Act. "Title II," the authority under which the FCC could reclassify ISPs and impose stricter regulations, as well as "common carrier," and "reclassify," were frequent keywords in this group. A smaller group of about 15 percent advocated the FCC going as far as classifying ISPs as public utilities.

One Half

Half of the comments discussed the impact of ending Net Neutrality on innovation, startups and economic fairness, including keywords like "competition," "startup," and "barrier" and "entry."

One Third

A lack of competition among ISPs was mentioned in about a third of comments, frequently using keywords such as "monopoly," "competition," and the names of major ISPs.

Sources of Form-submitted Comments

Sunlight found that of the form-submitted comments, the vast majority were form letters from pro-Net Neutrality organizations like the CREDO Action, the Nation, "Battle for the Net" Daily Kos, Free Press, Electronic Frontier Foundation and others.

(Photo : Sunlight Foundation)

Out of the total, only about 5 percent of form-submitted comments came from deregulatory advocates like Stop Net Neutrality, Tea Partier, and elsewhere, though Sunlight noted some of those comments' keywords included self-conflicting logic -- for example, simultaneously advocating for consumer freedom and market freedom for ISPs, which even FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently stated were uncompetitive monopolies.

How Sunlight Foundation Analyzed the Comments

Parsing through nearly a million pieces of text is a big job, which is why these results only come about a month after the FCC released the comment data.

The Sunlight Foundation took three weeks to filter and clean the bulk-released Open Internet comments, using natural language processing and machine learning to tabulate phrases, words, and their meaning from the largest-ever comments collection for an FCC policy change (they've made the cleaned-up data set available for anyone to analyze themselves).

As an example of how thorough Sunlight was, the actual comments sample for their data set is a little over 800,000 individual documents. The smaller number is due to a couple of factors. For one, physically mailed comments are still being scanned and entered into the system by the FCC, and haven't been released yet. Sunlight also found that 500 comments had completely blank text fields.

Weirdly enough, Sunlight also had to discard a couple of comments because they were the entire texts of "Les Misérables" and "War and Peace" -- ostensibly, Sunlight will let the literary critics decide what Net Neutrality positions were expressed by Hugo and Tolstoy centuries before the Internet.

Be sure to check out the Sunlight Foundation's full breakdown for more details and interactive versions of the infographics.

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