Group's numbers opposed to net neutrality smaller than suggested

American Commitment's 2.4 million letters to Congress came from about 800,000 people

A conservative group that sent 2.4 million letters to the U.S. Congress opposed to net neutrality regulations didn't actually collect signatures from 2.4 million people, although the group's news release says the letters added millions of new voices to the debate.

Instead, American Commitment, an advocacy group with ties to the Republican billionaire Koch brothers, collected about 814,000 signatures on a petition calling on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to stop its supposed government "takeover" of the Internet.

The group then generated three letters to Congress for each person signing the petition, one letter to each of the signer's two senators and one to each signer's representative.

American Commitment's press release this week didn't specifically say the letters were signed by 2.4 million people, instead referring to the letters as "2.4 million constituent letters." The group's press release also included a quote from Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican and net neutrality critic, who said Congress welcomes "the addition of more than 2.4 million voices to the net neutrality debate."

The group's news release didn't note that the number of letters were based a smaller number of people, but it does say that American Commitment delivered 808,000 comments opposed to net neutrality rules to the FCC before the agency's comment deadline in mid-September.

The group did not intend to mislead people about the number of people who signed the petition, said American Commitment President Phil Kerpen. "I thought it was pretty clear that it was the number of letters that we were talking about ... not the number of individuals," he said. "There was definitely no intention to represent the numbers as anything other than what they were."

BattlefortheNet.com, a coalition of groups calling on the FCC to pass strong net neutrality rules, also reported three times the number of emails sent as the number of people who filed comments with the FCC during a symbolic Internet slowdown protest in September.

BattlefortheNet reported that 777,000 people filed comments with the FCC during the protest and participants sent 2.3 million letters to Congress, although the group didn't spell out how the letters were generated. BattlefortheNet participants didn't imply that each email sent was from a separate individual, one participant in the protest said.

American Commitment's petition doesn't mention the words, "net neutrality" or "open Internet," the FCC's term for the proposed rules.Instead, the group urges people to sign and send the FCC the message "that the American people won't stand for a federal takeover of the Internet." The petition also calls on the FCC to not regulate the Internet.

Nothing in the FCC's proposed rules would amount to a federal takeover of Internet content. Net neutrality rules, even if the FCC reclassified broadband as a regulated public utility as some groups have advocated, also wouldn't amount to the U.S. government taking control of broadband networks. Net neutrality rules could allow the FCC to regulate network management practices and under some proposals allow the agency to ban some business arrangements between broadband providers and Web content producers.

The FCC has received more than 3.7 million public comments related to its proposed net neutrality rules, with the vast majority of those comments calling on the agency to enact rules. American Commitment's 800,000-plus comments opposed to a federal "takeover" of the Internet likely represented the bulk the comments opposed to the rules.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags telecommunicationregulationPhil KerpenU.S. CongressU.S. Federal Communications CommissiongovernmentinternetInternet service providersAmerican CommitmentbroadbandGreg Walden

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