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The Federal Communications Commission last week released more than 13,000 pages of net neutrality complaints filed by consumers against their Internet service providers. But the big document release came just one day before the deadline for the public to comment on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to repeal the net neutrality rules.
The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request in May in an attempt to get all of the net neutrality complaints received by the FCC since the rules took effect in 2015. The group also sought details on the resolution of each complaint, including ISPs’ responses to each consumer.advocacy group’s website, but the group hasn’t posted the August 29 batch yet. In total, the NHMC has received the text of 20,000 complaints and data related to 54,000 complaints, the group told Ars today. (There were just 47,000 complaints when the group started asking for them.)
“We are working to put the new documents online; it takes about a week turnaround time for our staff due to the heavy amounts of data and our small staff,” an NHMC spokesperson told Ars.
The NHMC wanted at least 60 days to conduct a full analysis of all complaints before the deadline to submit comments on Pai’s proposal to dismantle the net neutrality rules. Other advocacy groups also requested an eight-week comment deadline extension, but the FCC granted only a two-week extension, and the revised deadline passed on August 30.
FCC “ignored evidence”
“This small glimpse into the universe of consumer complaints show that the FCC blatantly ignored the evidence that the agency had in its possession throughout its push to scrap the vital consumer protections established by the Open Internet Order,” NHMC Policy and Legal Affairs Director Carmen Scurato said in a press release last week.
The first sample of net neutrality complaint documents received by the NHMC in June, “included nothing about the carrier response or how the complaints were resolved,” the NHMC said at the time.
The FCC initially said it would be too burdensome to review and redact personally identifiable information from all complaints. But later, the FCC agreed to release more complaints shortly before the comment deadline and “release the remainder as soon as we can.”
On August 24, the NHMC says, it “received an additional 7,044 pages of consumer complaints, 457 pages of carrier responses, 1,500 ombudsperson e-mails, and ten Excel spreadsheets.” On August 29, the group “received an additional 13,311 pages of consumer complaints and 127 pages of carrier responses.” It’s not clear when all complaints will be made public.
Pai’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” plan has drawn more than 22 million public comments, though most are from form letters and many are spam. There were more than 1.5 million “personalized” comments, with about 98.5 percent of them opposing Pai’s proposal to repeal the rules, an analysis found.
Evidence of harm?
Pai’s proposal to overturn the net neutrality rules argued that there were only “isolated examples” of harm to consumers that would justify the FCC’s prohibitions on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.complaints about blocking, throttling, data caps, inconsistent speeds, privacy, inaccurate disclosures, billing, and more. Complaints were filed against Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and others. You can find ISP responses to complaints here and e-mails from the FCC’s open Internet ombudsperson here.
Complaints are often filed about broadband service policies that don’t actually violate net neutrality rules, such as data caps or throttling that is allowed under the exception for “reasonable network management.” But the complaints show that many consumers believe that Internet service providers aren’t acting as neutral conduits to the Internet.
The NHMC urged the FCC to reopen the net neutrality docket to allow more time to review the complaints and responses to them:
Now, we can clearly see the effectiveness of open Internet protections on the books—consumers were able to voice the harms they experienced and seek help to remedy them. While the agency attempted to avoid the scrutiny of the public through today’s deadline to file comments, the FCC still has a chance to do a proper analysis of the documents, give Public Notice and initiate a new comment cycle. This is an opportunity for the FCC to prove that they will no longer shirk their responsibility to prevent corporate abuses and keep the open Internet open.