The FCC Received 22 Million Remarks on the Year of Allergic to Repeal Net Neutrality. Virtually 18 Million Were Fake, Says New York’s Attorney General.
On the entire year former President Trump’s Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality, the regulator has been inundated with more than 22 million comments. Nearly 18 million of these were fake, and some 40% of these originated from an impact effort linked to the broadband business, New York Attorney General Letitia James discovered in a 39-page report released on Thursday.
Some 8.5 million of the bogus comments used the names and private information of real people with no knowledge or consent, she added.
Net neutrality denotes the principle that broadband providers should treat all content equally, without blocking, slowing , or charging to improve certain content. Advocates fiercely opposed its repeal, and the attorney general said that the broadband sector covertly financed an effort that contributed to its own demise.
“The settlements require the businesses to pay $3.7 million, $550,000, and $150,000 respectively, because of their misconduct,” the report states. “The settlements also impose comprehensive reforms for any future attempts to safeguard consumers and prevent bogus remarks.”
That Astroturf effort, as the report refers to it, was in turn funded with $4.2 million in Broadband for America, an industry-funded non-profit made up of senior executives in the broadband businesses and trade groups, as stated by the solicitor general.
“The broadband team believed this support — in conjunction with press outreach, social media campaigns, along with coordinated figures from the broadband business and free-market economists — could’contribute [FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai volume and intellectual cover’ for redesign,” the attorney general’s report finds, referring to this industry-friendly leader of this commission through Trump’s tenure. “Indeed, 1 broadband business executive — himself a former chairman of the FCC — advised members of BFA’s executive committee, in an email, that’we want to be certain Pai can get those opinions so he can talk about the large number of comments supporting his place .'”
The broadband business participants in the report are not named, and also the attorney general’s office claims that the investigation is ongoing. However, the attorney general added that the office”has not found evidence that the broadband companies or their lobbying firm had direct knowledge that the lead generators they had funded engaged in fraud.”
“As a consequence, the OAG has not found that these parties violated New York law,” the report states. “But, the conduct of these broadband businesses and their lobbying firm raises serious concerns.”
“Americans voices have been drowned out by people of bogus messages and comments being submitted to the government to influence decision-making,” James wrote in a declaration. “Instead of really looking for real answers in the American people, advertising businesses are enticing vulnerable people to their websites with freebies, co-opting their identities, and also fabricating answers that giant companies are subsequently using to influence the polices and laws that govern our lives. However, today, we’re taking action to root this out fraud and the impersonation that’s been corrupting the process for far too long.”
Her office’s analysis determined that almost 80% of those phony comments linked to the broadband sector originated by a practice known as co-registration, in which consumers are offered rewards for their private info.
“Marketing offers varied widely, and contained everything from ignored children’s movies to free trials of penile enlargement products,” the report states, embedding screenshots of agent photographs. “The broadband business created solicitations to run alongside these advertising offers, requesting consumers to combine the effort opposing internet neutrality,” the report continues. “Responses would be accumulated and used to generate comments. The remainder of the comments — approximately 20% — have been produced using online advertisements placed on websites throughout the net.
James added that net neutrality is only one issue that’s been murdered by inauthentic commenters.
“From net neutrality rules to laws affecting criminal justice reform, health care, and much more, these bogus comments have only been generated to impact too many government policies, which explains the reason we are cracking down on this deceptive and illegal behaviour,” James said in her announcement.
The attorney general found that the three firms that entered into the settlements were included in more than 100 other advocacy campaigns.
“The firms played exactly the same role in these campaigns: to get individuals’ permission to publish comments, letters, and petitions to the government,” the report states. “During this job, the firms helped generate more than 1 million opinions for rulemaking proceedings conducted from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the FCC, along with more than 3.5 million electronic signatures for speech and petitions to federal and state legislators and government officials.”
As outlined in this report, one of the bogus comments was submitted in the title of Nassau County, New York resident Kenneth Langsam, who had died seven years before he supposedly”urge[d]” the FCC to fall internet neutrality. James claims that his story isn’t unique, and she anonymously quotes other New Yorkers she says were victimized by opinions unwittingly submitted in their title.
“I find it extremely ill and disrespectful to be using my dead dad to attempt to make an unpopular choice look the contrary,” one is quoted as saying.
“That is frightful,” another told the attorney general’s office. “Who knows what else has been said under my title?”
James released her report to the afternoon the House Committee on Energy and Commerce convened a hearing”Broadband Equity: Addressing Disparities in Access and Affordability.”
See on the attorney general’s record below:
(Photo via Joshua Rashaad McFadden/Getty Images)
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