Back in 2017, the US Federal Communications Commission under Ajit Pai repealed Obama-era net neutrality policies after a period of public comment (see “FCC and Congress Work to Roll Back Net Neutrality,” 5 May 2017). Now TechCrunch reports that an investigation by the New York attorney general’s office has revealed that not only were the vast majority of the comments submitted to the FCC fake—18 out of 22 million—but that a consortium of major broadband companies spent $4.2 million to generate and submit more than 8.5 million of the fake comments against net neutrality. In many cases, the companies used the names of real people who had no idea comments had been attributed to them. So far, three lead generators—Fluent, React2Media, and Opt-Intelligence—have had to pay $4.4 million in settlements. Sadly, it looks like the broadband companies behind them will avoid charges due to having firewalled themselves from the firms that did the dirty work.
Amusingly, another 7.7 million fake comments in favor of net neutrality were submitted by a 19-year-old California college student who combined a fake name generation site with a disposable email service. Two lessons become clear:
- The FCC’s public comment system is nearly worthless as currently coded.
- Sleazy marketing firms are much more expensive than student hackers.