Net Neutrality Commenters Used Fake Names, Temporary Emails, Canned Language

Only 1.3 million of the nearly 22 million comments submitted to the FCC this year regarding net neutrality were unique, according to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center.

The vast majority of the comments -- 94% -- took their language from canned language that was posted online, or came from organizations like pro-neutrality advocacy groups Fight for the Future, Demand Progress and Free Press, and the anti-regulatory group Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Pew reports.

Pew researchers examined the record-setting 21.7 million comments submitted during the formal comment period that ran from April 27 through August 30. In April, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai unveiled plans to repeal the 2015 net neutrality regulations. Those rules, which Pai voted against two years ago, reclassified broadband as a utility service and imposed some common carrier regulations, including bans on blocking or throttling content.



To some extent, submitting canned comments is comparable to signing an online petition, or participating in an online letter campaign. But in the past, those efforts didn't result in as many comments as with the recent net neutrality proceeding.

"What was different here was the scale of it and the speed," says Paul Hitlin, one of the report's authors.

On nine occasions, more than 75,000 comments came in at the same second. Three times, those comments were pro-net neutrality, while the remaining ones opposed the rules.

Most of the comments -- 57% -- also came from temporary or duplicate email addresses, and thousands of commenters used fake names, like "Net Neutrality," "The Internet," or "17-108" (the docket number the FCC assigned to the proceeding).

John Oliver, host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight," also appeared to contribute to a spike on comments. On May 7, Oliver devoted 19 minutes of his show to opposing Pai's planned repeal, and urged viewers to make their views known to the FCC. At around the same time, the FCC said its website suffered a denial of service attack.

Pew reports that more than 2.1 million comments were submitted in the five days following Oliver's segment and the FCC's website crash.

When the Obama-era FCC considered net neutrality in 2014, the agency received more than 3.7 million comments from the public, though many of those were also canned.

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