[Special Section on Net Neutrality] Analyzing the Net Neutrality Debate Through Awareness of Agenda Denial

Barbara A. Cherry


Public policy making can be considered a set of processes that include the setting of the agenda, specification of alternative policy choices, an authoritative choice among those specified alternatives, and the implementation of the decision (Kingdon 1995, pp. 2-3). A successful policy outcome requires success in all these processes. With regard to the first process, the agenda “is the list of subjects or problems to which governmental officials … are paying some serious attention at any given time” (Kingdon 1995, p. 3).
“Agenda setting, the politics of selecting issues for active consideration, can be examined from a variety of perspectives” (Cobb & Ross 1997, p.3). Much of the agenda-setting literature emphasizes how individuals and groups, or initiators, try to gain access to decision makers through issue expansion, that is, by framing issues to appeal to a larger audience. Cobb and Ross (1997, p. xi) focus on agenda denial, that is, “the political process by which issues that one would expect to get meaningful consideration from the political institutions in a society fail to get taken seriously.” Agenda denial concerns tactics used by issue opponents to keep issue initiators from attaining success at any stage in the set of policymaking processes.

The current network neutrality debate is a clear example of agenda conflict, whereby proponents seek to get the issue of network neutrality on the agenda and opponents seek its denial. The lack of a consensus as to the definition of network neutrality is symptomatic of the ongoing battle to frame the debate.

Opponents’ framing of the network neutrality issue represent strategies of agenda denial described by Cobb and Ross (1997). This paper asserts that awareness of the strategies of agenda denial assists evaluation of opponents’ arguments and provides a better understanding of the political dynamic of the overall network neutrality debate. In this way, network neutrality proponents may more effectively construct counterarguments and policymakers may better distinguish meritorious claims from rhetoric.

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