A group backed by the largest internet service providers in the United States has secretly funded the submission of millions of fraudulent comments opposing federal net neutrality rules, according to a report released Thursday by the New York attorney general’s office which comes as no surprise to anyone. The campaigns were part, according to the OAG, of an effort to cover up former Federal Communications President Ajit Pai’s plan to eliminate the FCC’s popular network neutrality protections.
Of the 22 million public comments submitted to the FCC in 2017 before its decision to rescind net neutrality protections, 18 million were false, the NY OAG found. Almost half of those bogus comments – over 8.5 million – supported overturning federal net neutrality rules and were submitted by companies paid by the nonprofit Broadband for America (BFA), found the investigators. The astroturfing campaign was also the source of half a million fraudulent letters to Congress. OAG investigators claim that BFA paid $ 4.2 million to three lead generation companies – Fluent, Opt-Intelligence and React2Media – to submit the fraudulent comments.
In addition, 9.3 million bogus comments in support of strict net neutrality rules were submitted by a single unnamed 19-year-old California student, the OAG report said. (MDR.)
Unlike the bogus pro-net neutrality comments, which were submitted under completely fabricated names and addresses, many BFA-funded comments used the names and addresses of real people, including some were dead. In some cases, companies “used prices–like gift cards and contests – to attract consumers to their websites and join the campaign, ”according to the OAG. Rather than asking these people to write their own comments against the FCC’s net neutrality rules, the report says, the companies generated their own comments, which were submitted as part of the FCC’s regulatory process. agency to create the appearance of opposition to the FCC’s net neutrality protections.
According to the OAG report, “the vast majority of funding [for the BFA’s campaigns] came from three of the country’s largest broadband companies. The BVG report does not name the responsible companies, but only names BFA.
Launched in 2009, BFA lists several of the largest ISPs in the United States among its members, including AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Cox, and CenturyLink. The other members are telecommunications lobby groups including NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, CTIA – The Wireless Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and USTelecom – The Broadband Association. Although he claimed that he “supports Net Neutrality”, BFA was a vocal opposing the FCC’s reclassification of broadband services as “utilities” under Title II of the Communications Act, which authorized the FCC to prohibit ISPs from limiting Internet traffic, blocking websites or online services or to prioritize one site or service over another.
We have contacted all of the businesses and organizations listed as BFA members and will update this article when we get back to you. An attempt to contact BFA through its website would not send. (MDR.)
BFA-funded comment campaigns included a network of intermediaries and contractors. Fluent, who is based in New York and allegedly submitted around 4.8 million fraudulent comments as part of the BFA campaign, “has never obtained anyone’s consent to submit a comment on their behalf,” the report said. “In fact, he never asked a single person for their consent.” Opt-Intelligence, meanwhile, served as an intermediary and outsourced the fake commenting work to Fluent and another intermediary, who in turn outsourced this work to other companies, including React2Media. , according to investigators. The OAG said Opt-Intelligence was “responsible” for 250,000 of the fake comments, while pinning 329,000 fake comments on React2Media. A total of nine companies participated in the BFA-supported campaigns, several of which are not named in the BVG report.
Beyond the bogus comments submitted to the FCC, investigators said, the BFA lobbying firm hired Fluent for two additional campaigns targeting members of Congress. In total, Fluent was responsible for 360,000 of the more than half a million fraudulent letters sent to US lawmakers, according to the report.
In an agreement with the BVG, Fluent, Opt-Intelligence and React2Media are to pay $ 4.4 million in penalties and restitution and “adopt comprehensive reforms in future advocacy campaigns,” according to the Office of the OAG.
The flood of bogus comments was part of BFA’s plan to “fabricate” the appearance of support to overthrow the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality protections, according to the BVG. “The broadband group believed that this support – in conjunction with press outreach, social media campaigns and coordinated repositories from the broadband industry and free market economists – would yield [FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai’s volume and intellectual coverage “for repeal,” the report said, citing a March 2017 email between BFA executives and BFA’s lobbying arm. “Indeed, an executive in the broadband industry – himself a former president of the FCC – informed members of the BFA executive committee, in an email, that ‘we want to make sure Pai can get those comments so he can speak to the large number of comments supporting his position.«
Rather than providing cover, however, the flood of fake comments became a scandal. In response, Pai, a twice winner of the Courage Prize, later blame the fake comments on Russian accounts – despite the FCC denying court filings that she had some evidence to back that “fact,” as Pai called it.
Ultimately, the bogus comment scandal – and the fact that Americans support net neutrality protections—Didn’t do anything to deter Pai-led FCC overturn its net neutrality rules in December 2017. And since he left office, Pai has already received the grandpa position corporative it goes to all the government officials who are bent on corporate interests long enough.