Scripted Opposition Part of the Tainted Script for Public Interest Groups @FCC

by Mike Wendy on July 25, 2011

The Daily Caller today ran a story entitled Scripted opposition to wireless merger raises credibility questions.  The article speaks for itself, going into great detail on how numerous public interest groups and some of their corporate supporters have gamed the FCC comment system to their advantage in the AT&T / T-Mobile merger approval process.

About a month-and-a-half ago I wrote a similar / related blog post, called FCC Web Comments = Non-Random, Non-Credible Poll Results?, in which I questioned the use by the FCC of robo-comments when making decisions at the agency.

One interesting reply comment to my post (and which is relevant to the Daily Caller’s “scripted opposition” story above) came from Brett Glass, who operates a successful W-ISP in Wyoming.  In it he notes:

Here’s a data point for consideration. Scanning the list of people who had filed boilerplate comments in an FCC proceeding, I found the name of a customer of my company. I called the customer and asked him, “Do you know that you filed a comment advocating policy that would favor a large corporation at the expense of my small business? One that could possibly prevent me from providing service to you in the future or dramatically increase the cost of service?”

His response: “I only vaguely remember that. I filled it out as an automatic response to a mass mailing. I trusted the group that sent the mailing and did not understand the issue.”

I suspect that the majority of “commenters” who file boilerplate comments have similar stories to tell.

I suspect as much – or more – too.  Though the agency cannot control who sends comments to it, it does have a duty to maintain the integrity of its decision-making by ensuring its processes are fair, open and transparent.

Robo-comments, in my mind, do not meet this hurdle.  Though we are told the agency “considers” them, one hopes they do not consider them in high regard.

Brett Glass July 25, 2011 at 11:43 pm

By the way, the fact that robo-comments are being submitted in the T-Mobile / AT&T merger does not mean that the public favors the merger. (I have not yet found a T-Mobile customer who favors it, and I myself recently voted with my feet and wallet; I switched from Alltel to Verizon just before acquired Alltel’s assets in my area and “slammed” its customers to poor AT&T service.) It does mean, however, that automated comments should be disregarded.

txpatriot July 25, 2011 at 11:47 pm

@Brett: I agree that robo-comments clutter the comment review process, but I believe the law requires that all comments be considered. So robo-comments cannot simply be ignored.

However, the law does not say how much weight the FCC should accord such comments. Obviously, they s/b accorded little weight, but I don’t think the law allows the FCC to simply ignore them.

Brett Glass July 26, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Why not? They seem to ignore comments from small businesses like my own.

txpatriot August 9, 2011 at 11:36 pm

@Brett: agencies must “consider” all submitted comments. Agencies are not obligated to agree with any of them.

@Mike: have you seen this?
I’ve never heard of the Administrative Conference of the US, but they recommend using software to deal with situations where identical (or nearly identical) robo-comments are submitted by the thousands.

Mike Wendy August 10, 2011 at 3:14 am

Thanks for this info, txpatriot. Very helpful. I was not aware of this.

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