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FCC Ignored Your Net Neutrality Comment, Unless You Made a 'Serious' Legal Argument (theverge.com) 279

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: 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.
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FCC Ignored Your Net Neutrality Comment, Unless You Made a 'Serious' Legal Argument

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  • whodathunkit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:24PM (#55607313)

    So much for the government enacting the will of the people.

    • Re: whodathunkit (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AntronArgaiv ( 4043705 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:34PM (#55607367)

      You know, it's not really fair to expect the average citizen to be able to phrase his viewpoint in legal terms. Nor is it reasonable to expect that he would spend the money to hire a lawyer, simply to express his opinion. For example, constituents routinely make their views known to their elected representatives, using plain language. Why should the FCC require a higher standard?
      I'd really like to see Pai get sued over this.

      • Re: whodathunkit (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:54PM (#55607505) Homepage Journal

        Wouldn't matter. They made their decision already. This is just for show. After all, lots of us did make plenty of serious legal arguments, and they ignored us, too.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Doesn't matter well over ten million pissed of computer geeks and nerds does not matter, boy will the US government find out how much 10 million pissed off geeks and nerds matter, it took way less than that to fuck over the US election and turn it into a blame Russia joke. The US government will be feeling a whole lot of digital pain for this action, across the board.

          • by arth1 ( 260657 )

            I'm kind of surprised that no-one has comprehensively doxxed Pai yet.

          • The US government will be feeling a whole lot of digital pain for this action, across the board.

            Why do you think they're trying to kill net neutrality?

            Your internet is about to become the equivalent of cable TV. You will have freedom to choose, within a very specific set of parameters.

            A non-neutral net is not just good for the internet's gatekeepers. It's also good for an authoritarian regime.

        • They've got a clear read on the will of the people, especially people who use the internet.

          They don't care, but they do know.

      • Re: whodathunkit (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot@wor[ ]et ['f.n' in gap]> on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:54PM (#55607507)

        You know, it's not really fair to expect the average citizen to be able to phrase his viewpoint in legal terms. Nor is it reasonable to expect that he would spend the money to hire a lawyer, simply to express his opinion. For example, constituents routinely make their views known to their elected representatives, using plain language. Why should the FCC require a higher standard?
        I'd really like to see Pai get sued over this.

        Easy. If you can afford a lawyer, then you're rich enough that the FCC is interested. If you can only speak in plain language, then you're just a prole and can't possibly understand government. Government's too complicated for simple minded folks. Those who can afford lawyers, well those people understand how government works.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by novakyu ( 636495 )

        On the other hand, how much should form-letter activism count? It's just deserts for people who waste other people's time, that they end up getting ignored.

        • It's just as valid as form-letter responses from your Congressmen - the fact that somebody cared enough to copy a form letter and attach their name to it counts for more than the people who ignored the issue.

      • I'd like to see ...

        oh hell. I don't want to get in trouble. but you can imagine what I'd like to see.

        (we live in a world where the chilling effect silences our true thoughts online. this is one such case. what I -think- has no bearing on real action, but again, we are in a witch-hunt kind of world, now, and things you say can and WILL be used against you.)

        but yeah, you can imagine how I feel about this. I'll leave it at that.

      • by Ogive17 ( 691899 )
        I wrote a letter to my Congressman. He didn't care about my view, he only cared to toe the party line. The form letter I got in return was full of political bullshit.

        My initial letter was basically "since when have the telecom companies worked for the people?"
      • You know, it's not really fair to expect the average citizen to be able to phrase his viewpoint in legal terms.

        True enough. But if they keep ignoring them, the average citizen will phrase the viewpoints in pitchforks and torches. Those aren't legal terms but they are readily understood.

        The classic "four boxes of liberty" hasn't gone away. "There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use them in that order." If the FCC members refuse to listen to the soap box, and the ballot box is ineffectual and deadlocked between two extreme positions that refuse the will of

      • It's about law... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SeattleLawGuy ( 4561077 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @11:05PM (#55608597)

        Suppose you are asked to come up with rules saying what publishers can and can't do. Should that be based on a vote of the people (risking suppression of political or religious dissent) or based on detailed critiques of the different options available to you and their consequences? Should your standards for IT security be based on a vote of your customers?

        Public comment is sometimes incredibly useful and important, but it's not magic and it's not majority-wins. It's about having a group of experts with domain knowledge making policy. You can still ask Congress to change the law to override them.

        Of course there's a problem with the distributed incentive to comment on the consumer side. If you don't have money riding on a regulation, you're not going to invest in comment. But if you want a comment to be meaningful, you need to either dive deep enough to make your comment be really good, or you have to hire (or get together with others to hire) someone to help you do that diving. A good lawyer can help you do that. The declaratory ruling, report, and order is a couple of hundred pages long--unless you are going to pay a professional to dig through it or spend a lot of time on it, the chance of critiquing it in a meaningful way that will make someone think about or modify their position is extremely low.

        https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_pub... [fcc.gov]

    • Re:whodathunkit (Score:5, Insightful)

      by war4peace ( 1628283 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:35PM (#55607373)

      Fear the true will of the people. Usually "the people" are a bunch of semi-primitives who have no clue what the fuck they are doing or whether whatever they seem to want is even achievable. Yes, everyone would love lots of money, free booze and no work to do, but besides that I don't think "the people" (as a whole, mind you, not those of them who have neurons in other places than their own gonads) are any good at deciding anything.

      Governments never enacted the will of the people; they did what they thought was best for the country and their own pockets, with priorities varying from "most for my pockets" to "most for the country", with the former being more prevalent throughout history.

      All voting processes are flawed in one way or another, so you can't even argue successfully that the ruling people were "chosen by the people". Most times they aren't. They're usually chosen by a group of people with power, and then the candidate is shown as "this is the one you should all vote!" and that's it. That's a lack of choice rather than a choice, much like "mouldy bread or spoiled meat" could be considered "choice".

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      So much for the government enacting the will of the people.

      There's a process for the government to enact the will of the people, and it involves Congress. Not the FCC: Congress. That's how it *should* have been done, and if Obama and the Democrats cared so much about this they could have done it. It's like DACA, only not quite as bad.

      • What, then, is the purpose of requiring a "public comment period"?

        • Because the comment period can introduce angles they may not have thought of. Guess what a mass mailed form letter rather explicitly doesn't do.

          • by mark-t ( 151149 )

            This.

            So much this.

            If the EFF had wanted people to write letters, they could have provided all the information that a person would need to know to understand what is going on, and then a mailto link that opened up as a blank slate except for the "to" field. This would force any user who was remotely serious about writing a letter to have to take the time to compose it, in their own words, and would not basically create a set up for this situation to be all but completely certain.

            Form letters do dick

            • Form letters do dick-squat. If you want people to write letters, then you inform the people, but you do *NOT* tell them or even suggest to them exactly what they ought to write because 9 out of 10 people, however well-intentioned they might have otherwise been, will just not bother trying to put it into their own words when something else already exists. You'd get less people sending letters, but you wouldn't get a situation where 90% of the letters get ignored.

              Actually, form letters do worse than nothing, because they show you've got at best a lot of people whose support isn't much past filling in a blank or two & clicking send at best. It's effectively spam. If you just want numbers, it's better to just get people signing a petition; you can provide the info needed for anybody who wants to write a letter on their own as well as sign the petition.

    • Bitch at your congressperson. The FCC's remit is not the opinion of the people.

    • It's enacting the will of the people. The people who have a lot of money to throw at politician campaign fundraising. If you aren't one of those people then the government is probably not going to listen to you. And then it's probably a case of you were saying what they wanted to hear rather than them valuing your expertise.

    • I'm sure there's a dozen or more "serious legal arguments" here... so, why don't we copy-paste each one into a separate comment to the FCC so they can count the number of times they see each one.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:27PM (#55607321)

    By 'a lot of factors' they mean the amount of money paid to the commissioners by Verizon and friends, apparently.

  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:30PM (#55607353)

    They imagine it looks superficially honest to eliminate public comment based on a bureaucratic process. What they've overlooked is that the mob doesn't care about superficial appearances when they know you're just ignoring them... and the mob REALLY doesn't like it when you rub it in their face that you don't care about them.

    I think they just told the American public to eat cake.

    But of course they're doing what they want, and what the Republican party wants them to do... remove impediments to fleecing the commoners (who voted for them!) more efficiently.

    So... is it time for the guillotines yet? When will the public turn on those who are betraying them? When will enough of them even realize they're being betrayed?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:40PM (#55607405)

      Three things keep these clowns in power:

      * Citizens United ==> Unlimited spending by corrupt special interests to subvert the political process.

      * Gerrymandering and voter suppression ==> to keep low income and non-white voters from having any representation.

      * Fear mongering over hot-button social issues that have zero impact on most people's lives (abortion, gay marriage, transgender bathroom access) ==> bring out the social conservatives and get them to vote against their own economic interests.

      It's a winning formula. Sad, but effective.

      The Republican party sure knows how to extract wealth from the masses and hand it to their wealthy backers. A disinterested, ignorant population is easily manipulated.

      • by Altrag ( 195300 )

        I'm not sure that the population is as disinterested and ignorant as you believe. But when your choices are Trump or Clinton.. I'm still not 100% the alternative would have been significantly better. Less chance of a war with North Korea perhaps, but Clinton and many Democrats are just as deep in the pockets of the large corporations. In many cases the same large corporations -- nothing stops them from hedging their bet and just buying off both candidates. Its not like corporations have any political pr

    • So... is it time for the guillotines yet?

      No. Mainly because it's a lot easier to vote them out of office. Oh, you can't vote them out of office? You probably wouldn't have won a revolution, then.

      That's how the system is set up: to avoid a revolution by making power changes by other methods easier. It is not a perfect system, but it has solved the problem of periodic revolutions.

  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:31PM (#55607357)
    'Serious' legal argument = money
  • by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:33PM (#55607365)

    Who wants to bet this justification only popped up after they looked over the comments? (and were forced to disregard all the anti-net neutrality bot opinions)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Altrag ( 195300 )

      Discounting the spambots is not really an issue.

      Its when they discount the form letters produced by organizations such as the EFF and OpenMedia. Sure, the person sending them didn't actually put a whole lot of time or effort (or apparently the only thing the FCC cares about these days -- money) into it, but unlike the bots each one of those form letters still indicates intent by the person who clicked the submit button.

      So ignoring those is basically the equivalent of telling millions of people that their o

      • by mark-t ( 151149 )

        The problem is really that organizations like EFF and OpenMedia should not be providing form letters to send in the first place. They should give the person an address to send their remarks to, but absolutely *NONE* of the content of the email should be provided or else they are just setting up a situation where this kind of thing is going to happen.

        I've seen this kind of thing happen before, where a federal organization accepts public comments on an issue, and a well-meaning person or organization tha

        • The problem is really that organizations like EFF and OpenMedia should not be providing form letters to send in the first place. They should give the person an address to send their remarks to, but absolutely *NONE* of the content of the email should be provided or else they are just setting up a situation where this kind of thing is going to happen.

          I've seen this kind of thing happen before, where a federal organization accepts public comments on an issue, and a well-meaning person or organization that wants people to send letters about the matter decides to supply an example of what such a letter should look like. Laziness on the part of the end-user kicks in and everybody just copies and pastes the darn thing, maybe changing only about 10% of it, and causing the organization to ignore all of them.

          So did the EFF and OpenMedia make an obvious rookie screw up, or were they following the existing standard whereby form letters were considered?

          • by mark-t ( 151149 )
            I'm not sure what "existing standard" you are talking about. It's common practice for comments that are obviously form letters to be ignored.
          • So did the EFF and OpenMedia make an obvious rookie screw up, or were they following the existing standard whereby form letters were considered?

            It's an obvious rookie screw up, and I was outright mystified when the EFF directed me to where I could send one in via a helpful web app because it's a well-known one.

            It's like they wandered in from some strange, strange alternate universe where form letters are considered and people really do get money from the Nigerian princes who randomly emailed them.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:35PM (#55607377)
    unless you asked for NN to be abolished. I have no idea why anyone is surprised. We put a political party in charge that is against the government regulating private enterprise. They never made any secret of this, ever. It's a central plank of their party. They control the House, Senate, presidency and soon the Judiciary. They control the State and local legislatures. They control literally all of government except a few parts of NY & CA.

    Fact is the vast majority of people oppose gov't regulation except when it's something they want regulated. But it doesn't work that way. You can't have a functioning government except when you don't. You can't have a gov't that looks out for your interests but not your neighbors (well, not unless you're very, very rich). Elections have consequences. Here's one right now.
    • by Altrag ( 195300 )

      Except in the case of NN, they aren't really regulating private industry. They're regulating public access to the internet. Just like they regulate what can be dumped into the public water supply for example. Sure the regulations negatively impact upstream businesses that now have to find other ways to dispose of their waste, but that's not the damned point.

      The point is not regulating it leaves the system wide open for abuse by companies that don't give a shit whether you live or die as long as they get

      • in a desperate attempt to find a way to get what you want without accepting the consequences. Trying to eat your cake and have it to. I've got a buddy who's a type-1 diabetic with right wing parents he idolizes who does the same thing. He desperately needs socialism because his illness means he can't hold a job. At the very least he need socialized medicine or he plain dies. He knows this, he's smart. But he's emotional, and doesn't want to go against those right wing parents of his (who kinda turn a blind
  • by freeze128 ( 544774 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:41PM (#55607415)
    You know when you're on hold with a company's support line, and a reassuring voice tells you that "Your call is important to us", and you mutter under your breath "Yeah, right" because you know that they really don't care, but they have to make it look like they do?

    Your call isn't important to the FCC, and they don't care if you know.
  • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:51PM (#55607479) Journal

    The title should read:
    "FCC Ignored Your Net Neutrality Comment."

    The explanation is just a pretence. Remember how the FCC didn't want to investigate all those anti-net-neutrality robo-submissions? [consumerist.com]

    There is simply no rational explanation other than malice under which robo-submissions with one point of view would be accepted while what appear to be genuine, but assisted, submissions with the opposite point of view would be ignored.

  • Imagine if this happened..

    The people rally: "we want you to forbid the use of lead in paint in childrens toys, as thousands of children have died!"
    The EPA: sorry, but you didn't use the correct legal verbiage.

    or

    The people rally: "we think its morally wrong that black people are only allowed to sit in the back of the bus".
    The transport authority: sorry, you forgot to fill out the form in triplicate.

    Making this about following procedure displays a willing tone deafness to the larger moral debate the
  • Now all they need to do is pick a sarcastic name for the declaration
  • by mutantSushi ( 950662 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @07:12PM (#55607639)
    It's BS and flies in the face of actual function of FCC. FCC is not a court whose edicts are purely resolutions of existing law. They decide policy which is ultimately an expression of opinions and choices. Anybody who has purely legal opinion can express it by bringing the matter to court and judging FCC policy based on purely legal matters. Pure public "opinion" is precisely what the FCC is legally supposed to take into account. No federal agency required to consider public opinion has ever claimed this interpretation AFAIK. (and if FCC believes this is legal requirement, would it not overturn all past federal regulations which illegally took into consideration public opinions which are not strict legal arguments?) Never mind that FCC has not enunciated a clear objective standard to discern "legal argument" from non-legal "opinion". There just isn't such a sharp distinction when one considers the philosophical fundamentals of judicial process. Courts consider opinions ALL THE TIME which are not strict functions of law, even if the latter is prioritized.

    The fact that they now openly admit refusing to consider public "opinion" that is not legal argument is in fact a great legal argument to overturn their NN decision for not following legal requirement to consider public OPINION. Of course, they can re-run process and say they came to same conclusion while taking into account the public opinions, but at least that delays them by some years and messes them up.
  • Who has the time.
    The FCC made it so difficult for me to comment.
    I can see why lots of people had to resort to form letters and spam-like tactics.

    It took me about 15 minutes of life just to wade through the obstacles thrown in front of me to voice my displeasure with this decision.

    And I am not a lawyer so framing things in a legal jargon context is not really in my wheelhouse.

    But I do have an opinion as do the many other millions who voiced their opinions and those are as valid as anything.

    This is all just s

    • by kenh ( 9056 )

      Seven and a half million people saying "ditto" just increases the workload and adds nothing to the argument.

      But I do have an opinion as do the many other millions who voiced their opinions and those are as valid as anything.

      Who cares what your opinion is, if you can't make a factual argument based on legal principles, don't waste your time.

      This is like a town council meeting, and everyone in town wants to get up and read the editorial from the local newspaper into the record because it expresses their "opinion". How long must the council members sit there and listen to the same argument over and over again?

  • ".... it still feels brazen hearing the commission staff repeatedly discount Americans' preference for consumer protections, simply because they aren't phrased in legal terms...."

    You mean, they should have instead set up a whole website to let people submit opinions that they simply ignored, instead? (cf https://petitions.whitehouse.g... [whitehouse.gov])

    Which is more disingenuous? Telling people you need to make a cogent POINT, and then they'll bother to read it? Or telling people they have a voice...but you actually ign

  • by buss_error ( 142273 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @07:27PM (#55607735) Homepage Journal

    The FCC has been clear all year that it's focused on "quality" over "quantity" when it comes to comments on net neutrality.

    That's like saying "We only count votes from quality people. The total of the vote doesn't matter."

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ScentCone ( 795499 )

      That's like saying "We only count votes from quality people. The total of the vote doesn't matter."

      No, it's not like that at all. It's like saying, "We are a federal regulatory agency making policy decisions, and when we hear new information we think about it, and when we hear the exact same thing said for the seven millionth time, it sheds no new light and isn't any more persuasive in legal or constitutional terms than it was the first time we heard those exact same words from the exact same form letter."

    • by kenh ( 9056 )

      No, it's like saying we only count votes from people that can follow instructions and clearly punch the ballot, not dimple it or create a hanging chad.

      It really is quite reasonable that the FCC reviews the comments and considers those that add something to the conversation, not treating all responses equally. I'm quite certain the majority of the non-unique comments were rambling, mis-informed statements of personal opinion which are, literally, meaningless to the discussion at hand.

    • This was a request for comments, not votes. This is pretty much exactly what I expected when I saw that I was being offered a form letter instead of a petition.

      What you should be offended by is the fact that the people leading the efforts on letting the FCC know that a lot of people would prefer net neutrality chose to do it by having us all spam them. A petition or donations to help pay for sending in a very nice, very well-done legal argument in its favor would have been more effective. I was pretty mu

  • Wonder how they consider the emails fake? A lot of political activism often involves form letters so its hardly surprising that they recieved a lot of duplicates.
    • by kenh ( 9056 )

      A malformed email address is fake. An email address that bounces when an email is sent to it can be considered fake.

      That 7.5 million "people" chose to send the same comment is really quite remarkable, that's one out of every three comment that added nothing to the discussion - it was 1 person expressing an idea, and seven and a half million other people said "Me Too."

      The wording is confusing, it sounds like 45,000 fake email addresses sent 7.5 million identical comments:

      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.

  • Seriously, 1-web, along with SpaceX, will be offering 1GB up/down with ~25 ms latency for $50/month.
    That is cheap. And count on the fact that they will push neutrality.
    Im hoping that Google will jump back into fiber in cities, but use SX as a CO for them.
  • FCC is right (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tolvor ( 579446 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @09:59PM (#55608381)

    Like it or not the FCC is *right* in requiring only legal (informed) comments over mass quantity of how many people feel about the issue. The fact that a lot of people have an opinion on a matter doesn't make them right or authorized to speak on the matter.

    To put this is terms you may understand more...

    Programmer: So you need a program to process these data items, correct?
    Clueless CEO: Yes, and I know that it should take only about a week. It can't be that complicated.
    Corporate seatwarmer: I agree. Definitely true.
    Corporate yesman: CEO, you are brilliant.
    And 7 other corporate suits, well, follow suit and agree with CEO.
    Programmer: It will take 2 months to program, testing will take several weeks, training will last about a week. Maintenance will last about an additional month.
    All: We voted on it programmer. You have a week to make it work perfectly.

  • Civil War is always an option for us!

  • by kenh ( 9056 )

    The FCC received a record-breaking 22 million comments chiming in on the net neutrality debate [...] 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.

    So 45,000 fake email addresses sent 7.5 million copies of the same letter, and the FCC didn't find that a convincing argument? I'm shocked!

    One out of three comments were identical - that's quite an achievement from the "hashtag activisim" folks, a group best known for their "#BringBackOurGirls", but that isn't a convincing argument. Simple repetition renders the message meaningless.

  • ...overstepping its legal authority by issuing the "Net Neutrality" regulation, in direct contravention to its previously stated position, and the bill from Congress itself, no one who is not somewhat legally literate cannot offer a serious or useful opinion on it. If you think "Net Neutrality" is a good thing, you need to contact your US Representative and Senators, they're the ones that can make it happen. Zealous but clueless supporters of this regulation are barking up the completely wrong tree. And the

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