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Beating a Dead Horse: Public Opinion on Net Neutrality

January 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Beating a Dead Horse Courtesy eBaums World

Much was made of the recent Rasmussen Reports poll that produced the statistic “53% Oppose FCC Regulation of the Internet.”

The Rasmussen poll is unadulterated bullshit.  Here’s why:

Public Ignorance: The public is overwhelmingly ignorant of what Net Neutrality is.  Case in point – of the people polled by Rasmussen, only 20 percent responded that they were “closely following” the news on net neutrality.  This leaves the vast majority of respondents open to manipulation (which Rasmussen takes advantage of with misleading questions).

Framing of the Issue: The telecommunications corporations have been very skillful at controlling how the Net Neutrality debate is positioned.  The news media have adopted their false version of the narrative: that the Internet was going along fine and now the FCC wants to meddle with it.  As I wrote previously, the actual narrative is as follows:

  1. The Internet was set up with Net Neutrality as the unofficial standard for data being transmitted online.
  2. The Telecoms (seeking to increase profits) tried to eliminate Net Neutrality in 2006 with the Orwellian “Communications Opportunity Promotion and Enhancement Bill of 2006” and a variety of other means (explained quite well by CIO.com).
  3. Advocates for Net Neutrality have, since 2006, been fighting to formally enshrine Net Neutrality as the official standard beginning with the Markey Amendment to the COPE Bill in 2006.

Flawed Survey Instrument: Here are the actual questions Rasmussen Research posed to respondents (courtesy of SClayton at DailyKos):

  1. “How closely have you followed stories about Internet neutrality issues?”
  2. “Should the Federal Communications Commission regulate the Internet like it does radio and television?”
  3. “What is the best way to protect those who use the Internet—more government regulation or more free market competition?”
  4. “If the Federal Communications Commission is given the authority to regulate the Internet, will they use that power in an unbiased manner or will they use it to promote a political agenda?”

This thing reads like it was hand-written on a scroll of human skin in the blood of a puppy by a soulless, goat-legged AT&T lobbyist.  Here are some of the many things that are false/misleading in the way the questions are posed:

  • The FCC already regulates the Internet like it does radio and television.  Asking that question (which the poll does twice) creates the impression that this is a new phenomenon.
  • “More government regulation” or “more free market competition” are not mutually-exclusive in this case.  Preserving Net Neutrality increases “free market competition.”  Leaving it unprotected or eliminating it (like the FCC stupidly did for wireless providers) means the Telcos can limit free market competition by charging fees for premium access that only the wealthiest can afford – leading to monopolization.
  • The wording is completely loaded.  People hear “government regulation” and automatically their eyes turn red and they start gnashing their teeth (thanks to decades of conditioning by right-wing think tanks).

I’d love to know who paid Rasmussen for the poll, but unfortunately Rasmussen is a private organization so they keep details like that secret.

Bias on NPR – but not the Kind You’d Expect

December 12, 2010 1 comment

The Way the Telecom "Monster Truck" Metaphor Actually Looks

On the way into work a week or two ago, I heard a report on the current state of the Net Neutrality debate in Washington in an NPR store done by Joel Rose (“Midterm Elections May Hinder Net Neutrality”).

The Net Neutrality Debate

The Net Neutrality issue is one I’m passionate about, and as a public relations pro – I’m acutely aware of how the telecommunications corporations are spinning the issue.  “Spin” is the appropriate term because they’re using Luntz-esque semantics to diminish the public’s understanding of what is being proposed.  In this particular case, rather than address net neutrality on its merits, they’re seeking to gain traction for their position by focusing on a minute detail of the events unfolding in Washington at the FCC.

Here’s the train of logic:

  1. Net Neutrality is Popular: They know that the public is overwhelmingly satisfied with how Net Neutrality is working; it is a democratizing force that grants power to consumers/citizens at the same time it limits the power of governments/corporations.
  2. More Regulation is Not: The public has an overwhelmingly negative perception of the legislature and the government in general, and also of the idea of more laws/regulation.  (This is the angle they’re appealing to the Tea Party movement with).
  3. Formally Enshrining Net Neutrality = “More Regulation”: Rather than present the case for allowing telecommunications companies to nullify Net Neutrality, they’re presenting their case as “don’t regulate” or “we don’t need more government interference.”

This meme is at work and can be observed in a recent poll commissioned by “Broadband for America” – an industry front group funded by (among others) AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.  It falsely presented the question of Net Neutrality as ‘new government regulation’.  You can read their press release here (where they, of course, don’t include the actual survey instrument).

Back to the NPR Piece

The main complaint of media critics is that news organizations have an obligation to play “referee” as opposed to presenting “both sides” of an argument walking away.  NPR and Rose provide an excellent example in this case as the Net Neutrality is (falsely) framed:

[…] The recent midterm elections could affect the future of the Internet. Democrats in Congress, along with the Federal Communications Commission, had been crafting rules to protect what they call a free and open Internet. But Republicans say the Internet isn’t broken, doesn’t need fixing. Now with Republicans about to gain control of the House, advocates of new rules for an open Internet are pinning their fading hopes on the FCC. […]

Further;

[…] Mr. BRUCE MEHLMAN (Lobbyist): Does the FCC say were going to figure out a way to hammer out a compromise? Or do they say were putting the monster truck in drive?

(Soundbite of engine revving)

ROSE: That was Bruce Mehlman, a lobbyist for the telecommunications industry, and possibly the first person to ever compare the Federal Communications Commission to a monster truck.

(Soundbite of cheering)

(Soundbite of engine revving) […]

It’s subtle, but there’s a variety of elements of this story that are biased, but these are the main two:

  • Framing: NPR/Rose allow the telecoms to begin the narrative where they want, which is with the introduction of the bill to formally enshrine Net Neutrality under the law.  The very critical history of Net Neutrality is excluded from this discussion; chiefly, that the bill to formally protect Net Neutrality arose only because the telecommunications industry attempted to eliminate it in 2006. (Fortunately for Net Neutrality advocates, they entrusted the tech-illiterate late Sen. Ted Stevens to carry their water for them and he embarrassed himself so badly that it did irreparable damage to their case).
  • Treatment: Rose opted to include a sound byte of a monster truck to support the metaphor presented by Bruce Mehlman (shill for the telecoms).  He afforded no such courtesy for Gigi Sohn, President of Public Knowledge (the “other side” in this piece).

Perhaps it’s because Sohn didn’t have a colorful metaphor to present with her case, perhaps Rose thought it would sex up the story to feature the monster truck metaphor (he did, after all, describe the debate as “dry”).  Regardless, the end result is to play into the hands of the telecoms and allow them to set frame the debate.

Telecoms + Wikileaks = Trouble for Net Neutrality

I anticipate (if it hasn’t started already) that the interests trying to kill Net Neutrality will almost certainly use the recent Wikileaks release of 250,000 cables* as a wedge to advance their agenda.  The angle they’ll take is that for “security” reasons, we need to allow corporate control to be able to shut down “terrorist” organizations like Wikileaks.

[*Correction: Nick Manes correctly pointed out that thus far, only about one percent of the 250,000+ cables have been released]