Sen. Ted “Series of Tubes” Stevens’ anti-Net Neutrality bill (S. 2686) will soon be coming before the full Senate. The bill not only seeks to destroy the principle of Net Neutrality, but ties it in with a package of other issues favorable to telecom and cable companies.
This has enabled them to frame the debate around some of these consumer friendly aspects, but it also obfuscates what the debate is about.
Due to the favorable response to the principles of Net Neutrality, opponents, namely the big three telecom companies and cable providers, have tried to make the debate about cable choice and video franchising. The list of Net Neutrality supporters is impressive, including supporters as diverse as the SEIU, Gun Owners of America, the Christian Coalition and Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.org.
Recently a poll, seen here, released by The Glover Park Group (D) and Public Opinion Strategies (R) purports to show that attitudes are overwhelmingly favorable toward the Stevens bill. But one look at the survey design and it’s clear that this is little more than a push poll. It is a wholly dishonest measure of public opinion with obvious biases. You don’t need the filled in responses to see the problems with its construction. Here’s why:
Likelihood if More Cable TV Choice
If there were more choices for cable television service in your area, how likely is it that you would see:
Better customer service
The delivery of new technologies and enhanced services to customers
Higher quality programming, such as high definition television and video on demand
Any reputable pollster will tell you that there is no value in these questions. This question falsely assigns expertise to non-experts. The respondents, first of all, are only offered answers that place “more choices for cable television” in a positive light. They are not asked about any of the drawbacks from the service or even told that there are drawbacks. In short the respondent is unqualified to answer the question and it should be no surprise that these are supported by over 70 percent of respondents.
Importance of Legislative Elements
Now I’m going to read you some statements that describe how passing this legislation might benefit consumers. For each statement, I’d like you to tell me how important it is to you, personally?
Provide funding that will help deploy broadband to rural and underserved communities, schools and libraries, create state-of the-art communications networks for first responders and develop more advanced communication services for the disabled community
Create a streamlined national approval process for companies like AT&T;, Verizon and Comcast to begin offering new TV and video programming services, allowing them to bring consumers more choice and competition for cable TV faster.
Create a “Consumer Bill of Rights” that guarantees all consumers full access to legal content on the Internet and prohibits Internet access providers from blocking, degrading, altering, modifying, or changing the data consumers send or receive over the Internet.
If the questionnaire is worded exactly as it was read to the respondent-as you would expect in a public poll-then something is fishy. Where is the description of “this legislation” that was read to the respondent? My inclination is that they didn’t include it because the description was obviously leading. However, nothing else about the poll shows that an effort was made to hold back a bias. So make of this question what you will.
Each of the statements is rated positively by over 75 percent of respondents. Yet again, this is meaningless. These are “costless” answers. They don’t portray any useful information and the respondents aren’t asked to internalize any tradeoffs that come from supporting the statements. It’s the polling equivalent of the “Lower taxes, More services” paradox.
By now this really starts to feel like a push poll, and it’s easy to tell the survey was written to persuade, not to gauge attitudes. The questions are ordered to create a positive feeling for the telecoms before asking anything about tradeoffs or costs. That 42 percent of voters say it is most important for their Senator to support the legislation because of “government emergency response efforts” and “Provide funding to help deploy broadband in… schools and libraries” should come as no surprise.
Want Senator to Vote For/Against the Legislation
Based on what you know now, would you want the Senators from your State to vote for or against this legislation?
Here’s the crux! This shows more about how badly the poll was constructed than attitudes. Up to now, the survey has framed the legislation in a very limited way and, of course, in a highly positive light. Then it asks if the respondent would like their Senator to support it. Basically they pit the first option: helping emergency responders, against a second option: NOT helping them. Effectively this question asks “Would you like your Senator to support emergency response efforts or not support these efforts?” It’s no surprise that 80 percent said yes.
Which is Most Important to You?
Which of the following two items do you think is the most important to you:
Delivering the benefits of new TV and video choice so consumers will see increased competition and lower prices for cable TV
Enhancing Internet neutrality by barring high speed internet providers from offering specialized services like faster speed and increased security for a fee
Wow! This question might as well ask “What’s better, puppies or toxic waste?” In a reputable poll questions should be neutral and allow the respondent the freedom to answer in without leading him there. Notice how the first option utilizes positive words “benefit,” “choice,” “increased competition” and “lower prices.” The second is rife with negatives: “barring…specialized services” and “for a fee.” This question frames the issue along several dichotomies, not just positivity vs. negativity; but high cost vs. low cost; and choice vs restrictions.
A poll best serves its purpose by telling the client where the public’s attitudes are. The consultant best serves the client by interpreting the survey data, analyzing its meaning and explaining to the client how to increase support. This particular survey is completely useless to a client actually seeking public attitudes. There is no doubt in my mind that this was commissioned to be released so that the results could give the illusion that the public is already behind the Stevens bill.