The FCC asked for net neutrality opinions, then rejected most of them

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If you heard that the Federal Communications Commission received a staggering 21.7 million comments during its open comment period on its forthcoming net neutrality ruling, you might assume this phenomenon represented democracy in action. But in reality, those 21.7 million comments represent a new challenge to democracy — specifically to the way we register what actually counts as an opinion. The FCC made clear that it would be dismissing most of the 21.7 million comments submitted to its website as part of the open comment period on its planned repeal of net neutrality laws. The reason? Too many of them were duplicates — millions of which likely came from spambots rather than people. Now, new analysis from the Pew Research Center digs into the nature of these duplicate comments, and makes clear many of them are hurting the democratic nature of the process more than they’re helping.

 

The FCC is legally required to consider public comment in its ruling on net neutrality. But complicating the firestorm of controversy surrounding Pai’s near-certain forthcoming repeal is the issue of spambots and duplicate comments. Only 3 percent of comments had emails that were verified, according to the FCC’s verification process — and in addition to the plethora of suspiciously common or obviously fake names used, 7,500 comments were submitted from users identifying themselves only as “The Internet.” It's made it easier for the FCC to justify dismissing all of those comments — even the millions that might have been made by real people, acting in a sincere wish to partake in the democratic process. It’s fair to assume that had people known in advance that their comments would be thrown out because they were preformatted, advocates for net neutrality might have tried harder to craft a sufficiently unique response that would fall under the FCC’s consideration — though given that the FCC also was rejecting “opinions” that came without “introducing new facts,” it’s also likely that very little they could have said would have met the FCC’s standards for consideration.


The FCC asked for net neutrality opinions, then rejected most of them