Broadband Companies Faked 8.5 Million FCC Net Neutrality Comments
Back in 2017, the US Federal Communications Commission under Ajit Pai repealed Obama-era net neutrality policies after a period of public comment (see “FCC and Congress Work to Roll Back Net Neutrality,” 5 May 2017).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.
One minor nit, Ajit Pai’s “rollback” actually maintained the status quo, because it took place before Obama’s Net Neutrality rules took effect.
For all intents and purposes, we never had Net Neutrality. We only had a policy statement that was repealed before taking effect.
Fair enough. I’m personally neutral on net neutrality, as I’ve written about here in TidBITS. However, I think these fake comments are a serious case of mass fraud.
Whatever about the legal barriers they may have in place, I hope the telcos are hauled over some congressional oversight coals at least and taken to task. The FCC I suspect are not alone in being vulnerable to such manipulation.
Verrry interesting. I’ve contributed to debates via public comments for a few issues, and I believe the first of which was concerning the U.S. vs Microsoft (browser monopoly) case in the 90’s. The so-named “right to repair” is another. Some of these cases generate so many comments that I don’t know how anybody could read them. Would they just somehow devolve into polls then? Do public comments ever make a difference anyway? My guess is that their affect is inversely proportional to the magnitude of the issue, or the number of comments - and that they can be manipulated means that they can be easily ignored.
I wasn’t exactly neutral on net neutrality although I’m largely in the middle. Too many laws stifle companies and competition, and too little law enables companies to run amuck as we are witnessing with big tech right now.
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