The FCC received a record-breaking 22 million comments chiming in on the net neutrality debate, but from the sound of it, it’s ignoring the vast majority of them. In a call with reporters yesterday discussing its plan to end net neutrality, a senior FCC official said that 7.5 million of those comments were the exact same letter, which was submitted using 45,000 fake email addresses.
But even ignoring the potential spam, the commission said it didn’t really care about the public’s opinion on net neutrality unless it was phrased in unique legal terms. The vast majority of the 22 million comments were form letters, the official said, and unless those letters introduced new facts into the record or made serious legal arguments, they didn’t have much bearing on the decision. The commission didn’t care about comments that were only stating opinion.
The FCC has been clear all year that it’s focused on “quality” over “quantity” when it comes to comments on net neutrality. In fairness to the commission, this isn’t an open vote. It’s a deliberative process that weighs a lot of different factors to create policy that balances the interests of many stakeholders. But it still feels brazen hearing the commission staff repeatedly discount Americans’ preference for consumer protections, simply because they aren’t phrased in legal terms.
Americans by and large aren’t lawyers capable of putting together cogent legal analysis of telecommunications law, and prewritten form letters were widely offered to net neutrality supporters and opponents as a way to make their voice heard by the commission. The commission is required to accept and review public input. But if you were hoping that input would make a difference in the end, the FCC is now making it very clear that most letters it received didn’t change a thing.