Net Neutrality Update: Fake Commenters, Retracted Promises, and Pai’s New Claims

Net neutrality image from ACLU

WASHINGTON – The Pew Research Center is reporting that just 6 percent of comments on net neutrality submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this year were unique. 

Pew examined 21.7 million comments submitted during the formal comment period that ran from April through August. Pew says 94 percent of the comments were taken 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.

In April, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to repeal the 2015 net neutrality regulations, which reclassified broadband as a utility service and imposed some common carrier regulations, including bans on blocking or throttling content.

In related news, Ars Technica reports that Comcast changed its stance on paid prioritization following Pai’s April 26 announcement. When Comcast denied the report, the publication proved its case by publishing Comcast’s own pledge from its website. Starting in 2014, a Comcast webpage held this statement: "Comcast doesn't prioritize Internet traffic or create paid fast lanes."

That statement remained on the page until April 26. But since April 27, the paid prioritization pledge has been absent.

Comcast released a statement last week indicating it has no plans to establish paid prioritization and that it “won’t block, that we won’t throttle, that we won’t discriminate against lawful content … and have no plans to do so.” 

In other news leading up to the planned Dec. 14 net neutrality vote by the FCC, Pai now says repealing the regulations, including the current ban on paid fast lanes, will boost telemedicine.

"By ending the outright ban on paid prioritization, we hope to make it easier for consumers to benefit from services that need prioritization – such as latency-sensitive telemedicine," Pai said. "By replacing an outright ban with a robust transparency requirement and FTC-led consumer protection, we will enable these services to come into being and help seniors." 

But contrary to Pai's suggestion, the current rules already allow providers to create fast lanes for telemedicine. The current regulations are often characterized as including "bright-line" prohibitions against blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization.