WASHINGTON, D.C. November 29, 2017 – For the second time in less than four years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to vote in the coming weeks on changes to regulations around net neutrality – the principle that internet service providers must treat all data the same, regardless of the origin or purpose of that data. The public comment period on these regulations changes, which extended from April 27 to Aug. 30, 2017, elicited 21.7 million comments submitted electronically and posted online for review.
Using data from the FCC’s publicly available Application Programming Interface (API) Pew Research Center analyzed all the comments submitted online and found that 57% utilized duplicate, temporary or disposable email addresses and many individual names appeared thousands of times. It found that 6% of all comments were unique, while 94% were submitted multiple times, in some cases hundreds of thousands of times. The seven most-submitted comments comprised 38% of all submissions during the four-month comment period. Often, thousands of comments were submitted at precisely the same moment.
It is important to note that the Center’s analysis of the comments does not cover the substance of the content or express any judgment about the validity of any comments or the commenters. The Center’s report looks at the number of instances in which content was identical to other comments, whether information offered by commenters was accurate, and the timing of the comment submissions.
“When the Center analyzed the comments submitted during the 2014 net neutrality debate, about 450,000 comments were submitted to the FCC,” noted Aaron Smith, associate director of research at Pew Research Center. “This year’s comment volume dwarfed that and our analysis highlights the relative ease with which online commenting systems allow groups and individuals to mount large-scale campaigns for public policies. Such efforts were difficult to orchestrate in the pre-internet era and even three years ago were not taking place at the scale it has this time.”
Among the findings:
|•||Of the 21.7 million comments, 94% were submitted multiple times|
|•||On nine different occasions more than 75,000 comments were submitted at the very same second, often including identical or highly similar comments.|
|•||Thousands of submissions featured duplicate names or even non-names such as, “Net Neutrality,” “The Internet,” “17-108,” among others.|
|•||3% of comments definitively went through the FCC’s email verification process.|
|•||57% of comments were submitted using temporary or disposable email addresses|
|•||Out of the total comments collected, the top seven most-repeated comments accounted for 38% of all submissions; the top 10 most-repeated comments accounted for 44%, and the top 30 most-repeated comments accounted for 57%.|
The study included all 21,706,195 online comments submitted to the FCC regarding the net neutrality proposal called Restoring Internet Freedom. The Center used a measure known as “cosine similarity” to determine comments that were nearly identical. Researchers used a high threshold of .95 or greater on a 0-1 scale to ensure only comments that were nearly identical were counted as matching. More about the methodology of the text matching process utilized, including examples of identical and non-identical comments, can be found in the Methodology section of the report.