Stanford Study Shows Majority Support For Net Neutrality

In short: A study from Stanford University's Law School has now determined that the majority of the unique comments submitted to the FCC in the leadup to its 2017 repeal of Title II net neutrality regulations were opposed to the repeal. The research centers around more than 800,000 comments that are semantically individual rather than adhering to a form-letter format and, in particular, 646,041 comments that researchers were able to link directly to addresses within Congressional districts. A deeper analysis of 1,000 of those across both Republican and Democrat districts showed that as many as 99.7-percent of comments may have been in opposition to the repeal.

Background: The study itself is the result of concerns surrounding the 2017 repeal of the above-mentioned consumer protections that were designed to prevent ISP's from becoming arbiters of internet traffic or enacting self-servicing restrictions or limitations on the flow of that traffic. Prior to the regulations removal by the FCC, the agency asked for public comment on net neutrality and the proposal to do away with those regulations. However, that system was not well-maintained and the agency is alleged to have allowed a high number of bot and lobbyist comments to filter through without taking consideration for comments from real constituents within the US. The FCC has since set about revamping the comment system to account for these kinds of errors but, in the meantime, net neutrality regulations have only been reinstituted on a state-by-state basis.

What's more, it was claimed by proponents of the repeal that the average internet isn't well apprised of the implications of net neutrality regulations. This results of this study are effectively in opposition to that claim as well as showing that a majority of comments that didn't stem from pre-filled forms were filed in opposition to the repeal. Not only were the majority of unique comments against repealing the protections, constituents who took the time to write comments from scratch understood how the repeal might affect them and expressed concerns based on that understanding. Among those comments from rural areas, for example, concerns were often specifically based in the understanding that an already limited number of options for providers would be made worse if the repeal allowed those ISPs or carriers to throttle or block content. The Stanford Report takes things a step further to dispell another common perception that this issue is divided along party lines. Although comments from Democrat districts were more common, with an overall average of 1,489 across all districts against the repeal, "Lean Republican" districts averaged 1,467 and Republican districts averaged 1,202.

Impact: As mentioned above, several states such as California have already begun implementing their own laws that are either in-line with prior Title II regulations or which go much further and offer a wider array of protections. A total of 22 states are calling for the regulations to be put back in place. Those offer a direct challenge to the repeal of the regulation and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has responded by calling any enacted laws out, saying that they are "illegal." That sets the stage for what will almost certainly turn into a legal battle between the state. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the FCC will take any news regarding the scale of its commenting system's failures associated seriously.

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