Real people want neutrality, bots not so much Stanford study shows

28 October 2018 by Steve Blum
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The comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission in 2017 by real people were overwhelmingly in favor of keeping network neutrality rules in place. A study by Ryan Singel at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society analysed the 22 million comments submitted via the FCC’s online portal – the one that crashed in 2014 after John Oliver explained what it all meant – and found that most filings were robo-comments submitted by online bots, or were otherwise duplicate, boilerplate auto-postings.

But not all. The study identified more than 800,000 unique comments that could be reasonably attributed to real people. Nearly all of those comments – 99.7% – urged the FCC to keep the 2015 net neutrality rules in place, with 14% of the total coming from California. The FCC didn’t bother to do that level of analysis – the commission’s republican majority preferred to highlight the relatively few anti-net neutrality comments when it repealed the 2015 rules last year.

The study also found that geeky details of telecommunications regulation aren’t so arcane any more, and interest in and knowledge of those details are at least as prevalent in rural areas as in urban areas…

Support for net neutrality protections is geographically widespread. Contrary to assertions that rural voters don’t care about net neutrality, the reports show that ​citizens in rural areas who have extremely limited choice of broadband providers are concerned about what happens if their only choice of broadband provider is allowed to block, throttle or create paid fast lanes.

Contrary to assertions that net neutrality supporters don’t understand the issue, the reports show that commenters grasp the issue​​, including many referencing the once-arcane issue of whether the FCC classifies broadband providers under Title I or Title II of the Communications Act.

Another interesting finding was that net neutrality is a hotter topic in congressional districts with competitive races, than in districts with safe seats, republican or democrat. Given the heightened interest in California – and in the San Francisco Bay Area in particular, according to the study – the successful push by democrats to pass a Californian net neutrality law was probably a smart political move, despite republican efforts to downplay the issue.