When the FCC asked for public comment on its plan to end net neutrality last year, the docket was swarmed with millions of comments from bots. The fake comments used real identities and made it difficult for anyone perusing the system to find legitimate commenters trying to express their views.
A new study from a Stanford researcher sheds some light on the issue. By analyzing more than 800,000 comments that were “semantic outliers” — comments that were unique and not obviously produced by some form of automation — the study found that commenters were overwhelmingly in favor of net neutrality. The study did not account for “real” comments that were filed through systems like forms, but it still provides a window into commenters’ opinions. When the researcher manually analyzed 1,000 of the comments, 99.7 percent were found to be against the FCC’s proposed repeal.
The study also geotagged many of the unique comments and found the support for net neutrality was a “geographically widespread,” with net neutrality supporters commenting in both Republican- and Democrat-held areas. The study also reported that commenters clearly grasped the issue, and comments cited relevant legal issues like Title II of the Communications Act.
Despite protests from the Democratic minority at the agency, the FCC ultimately moved ahead with the repeal. At the time, it was already clear that a majority of commenters were against the plan, but the FCC said it would discount any comments that did not offer a “serious” legal argument.