Almost precisely two months ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asked the public for input on a proposal that would allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to charge online content providers, like Netflix and YouTube, a fee for access to a ‟fast lane” that would deliver their content to consumers faster than companies that don’t pony up.
Unlike most FCC calls for public comment, which pass largely unnoticed, the FCC’s proposal to essentially do away with a principal called net neutrality—the principle that all data flowing across the Internet is treated the same, regardless of its source—triggered a firestorm.
During the commission's 60-day legally mandated comment period—which closes its first round on Tuesday, but is still accepting new submissions—over 650,000 comments were left by students, web designers, comic artists, former government officials, cybersecurity professionals, small business owners and special education teachers, to name a few. Following an impassioned rant by HBO late night funnyman John Oliver unleashing the Internet’s trollish hordes upon the FCC’s proposal, the overwhelming comment torrent crashed commission’s website.
While most issues that incite great political passion among the general public tend to inspire two camps fiercely divided on either side of political spectrum, a survey of the comments about the FCC’s net neutrality ending ‟Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet” plan, provided something novel in 2014: nearly complete unanimity.
In an admittedly less-than-scientific analysis, the Daily Dot looked through the most recent 10,000 comments on the issue posted to the FCC’s website and took a random sample of 400 of them to determine how many wanted people wanted to preserve net neutrality and how many wanted to ditch the concept in favor of allowing the free market of broadband providers to regulate itself.
Of the 400 comments examined, only four could be interpreted as as being against net neutrality. The other 396 slammed major broadband providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, called net neutrality “the most important civil rights issue of this generation,” and said a lot of mean things about FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who was formerly the head of the cable industry’s chief lobbying group (but adamantly denies he’s biased).
Of those comments in the sample that advocated for net neutrality, just over 20 percent specifically called for the FCC to reclassify ISPs as ‟common carriers” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which is widely seen as the the strongest way to ensure net neutrality protections.
Notes on method: The 10,000 most recent comments, which stretch from July 2 through July 14, were divided into 100 comment blocks and then four comments were randomly selected from each block. Comments that obviously came from a form letter were excluded after the first instance.
Here are the four comments from the sample that supported the abolition of net neutrality, unedited and in their entirety:
I am opposed to the net neutrality laws, because I believe that the internet should be a realm of entire freedom, just as America is a realm of freedom of speech.
Let the marketplace determine how the Internet will function, rather than government regulations and involvement. Having a government agency pick desirable winners and losers and regulating the system (other than protecting children) is counterproductive. Our economy needs a free marketplace without intervention.
All ISPs charge for services to begin with. On top of that, they have speed tiers to choose from. This has been part of the market for quite some time. Faster speed is nothing new. I currently pay for faster service from my ISP because my family uses Internet Media as our entertainment.
If the ISPs want to charge other companies for faster speed and me for faster speed, whats the point in having tiers for me to choose from?
Thats why the market is perfect the way it is. Need internet only for email? Choose the slowest package. Want to watch shows online, instead of traditional cable? Choose the fastest package you can afford.
Keep it the same. Keep it fair. No one is going without right now.
I absolutely, vehemently disagree with the establishment of net neutrality. Along with the rest of the country, I'd just like to say that I cannot believe that you are even considering this idea.
There was technically one more comment in the sample that argued against net neutrality, but maybe John C. was being sarcastic:
I am all for ending Net Neutrality. It is the American Way, after all. A two-tiered Internet Access System will perfectly match our two-tiered Justice System and Economic System and give Corporate Personhood, particularly ultra-wealthy Cable Corporate Personhood, the same "rights" and lack of responsibility to the general welfare that the rest of their peers, particularly too-big-to-jail Banking peers, presently enjoy. Let's face it, lack of local competition isn't enough, Verizon, Comcast, Cox, AT&T, Mediacom and the rest need more in order to ensure their survival relative to the massive competition they may potentially face in some unknown future parallel fourth-dimensional world.
In short, out of 400 comments, just four opposed strong net neutrality. As satirical news site The Onion noted in a recent headline, ‟Public Opinion On Net Neutrality Fiercely Divided Into One Side."
Correcton: The article originally stated the comment period for net neutrality closes on Tuesday. Actually, Tuesday just marks the completion of the "public comment" phase and the opening of a "reply comment" phase that lasts until September 10. "The practical matter is, there's very little difference [between the two periods]," Gigi Sohn, FCC Special Counsel for External Affairs, told the Daily Dot. "We're still accepting all comments."
Illustration by Jason Reed