The Fallacy of Surveys and Studies | Citizens Against Government Waste
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The Fallacy of Surveys and Studies

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


In college, during a discussion of surveys in one of my political science classes, I learned that survey writers often skew questions to achieve the desired results.  A prime example of how this occurs can be found in a survey that was frequently cited on March 6, 2019, when Democrats in Congress announced the introduction of the “Save the Internet Act.”  Fittingly, the survey was conducted by the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.

During the press conference, the sponsors of the bill repeatedly cited the survey, which found that a majority of Americans who answered the survey questions supported the intent of the Save the Internet Act, which would reinstate President Obama’s Title II regulatory regime over the internet.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) touted the survey’s results that, “A full 86 percent of Americans oppose the Trump assault on net neutrality, including 82 percent of Republicans.”  These numbers were so high that they reminded me of the results of elections in communist nations, so I decided to check out the survey to see what exactly was asked and how many respondents there were.  The wording of questions 28 and 31 revealed why the answers were so skewed:

Question 28 states in part, “This proposal is basically giving ISPs a license to steal from consumers.  Even though they do not create websites themselves they could charge their consumers for access without any of it going to the websites.” 

If someone says that ISPs have a license to steal, that in and of itself evokes an immediate negative reaction.      

Question 28 further states, “The ISPs would become like cable companies charging ever-higher fees for access….”

This is clearly a false premise because internet speeds have gone up while consumer costs have either remained the same or dropped.  The question goes on to read, “ISPs could block access to websites for any reason they choose – for political reasons or to block any criticism of their service.”  No, they cannot, have not, and never would, because that would push internet users off of their service.

Question 31 is even more misleading, asking the respondents if they favor or oppose giving ISPs, “the freedom to provide websites the option to give their visitors the ability to download material at a higher speed, for a fee, while providing slower download speed for other websites; block access to certain websites; charge their customers an extra fee to gain access to certain websites provided these practices are disclosed to customers.”   

Again, this question leads to a nearly autonomic negative response.  What is not said in the survey is that nearly every ISP has committed in writing to support an open internet and oppose blocking lawful websites, allowing non-harmful devices of a customer’s choice, prohibiting discrimination of lawful content; or throttling the network beyond normal network management and being transparent about their practices.  Any deviation from their advertised terms of service would be something that would fall under the Federal Trade Commission’s enforcement purview.

There are additional misleading statements made in the survey.  Frankly, if I took this survey and believed the misinformation contained in these statements, then I probably would be among the “86 percent” favoring more stringent rules governing the internet.  However, I know better, and I also know that reinstating Title II utility style regulations on the internet is not the answer to any of these concerns.  This is all smoke and mirrors.

The survey of 1,077 registered voters was clearly drafted with one goal in mind – to convince the American public and any wavering member of Congress to support the imposition of a Title II government-run internet scheme.

If the Democrats are really serious about “protecting the internet,” they should work cooperatively with Republicans toward a solution that will codify the principles adopted by the FCC on August 5, 2005, which provided that 1) consumers should be able to access lawful content of their choosing; 2) consumers should be able to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement; 3) consumers should be allowed to connect to the internet their choice of legal devices that do not harm or disrupt the network; and, 4) there should be competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.  These principles are embodied in bills like H.R. 1006, the Open Internet Act of 2019; H.R. 1096, the Promoting Internet Freedom and Innovation Act of 2019; and, H.R. 1101.  They are not in the Democrats’ bill, which as written has no chance of passing the Senate, and will not receive bipartisan support in the House.

Passage of these bipartisan solutions would more than satisfy the concerns of the “86 percent of all Americans and 82 percent of Republicans” who want reasonable and fair rules for the internet.

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