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New York's AG: Broadband industry behind nearly 18 million fake FCC comments on net neutrality

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Posted at 12:19 PM, May 06, 2021

New York's Attorney General Letitia James issued a new report Thursday detailing a campaign funded by the broadband industry that influenced the FCC's 2017 repeal of net neutrality.

The report from James' office says "fake, public comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission" proceeded the FCC's repeal.

Net neutrality means broadband providers cannot block, slow down, or charge companies to prioritize certain content on the internet. The FCC repealed net neutrality rules that had been set up during the Obama administration.

James says three companies contributed to millions of fake comments submitted to the FCC to create "the false impression of popular support."

"This practice — disguising an orchestrated, paid campaign as a grassroots effort, to create a false appearance of genuine, unpaid public support — is often referred to as astroturfing," the report says.

She calls out one group in particular, Broadband for America, which spent $4.2 million generating more than 8.5 million fake comments to the FCC. A 19-year-old in college is also accused of submitted 9.3 million fake comments using automation software.

“Instead of actually looking for real responses from the American people, marketing companies are luring vulnerable individuals to their websites with freebies, co-opting their identities, and fabricating responses that giant corporations are then using to influence the polices and laws that govern our lives," James explained in a release about the report.

"From net neutrality rules to laws affecting criminal justice reform, health care, and more, these fake comments have simply been generated to influence too many government policies, which is why we are cracking down on this illegal and deceptive behavior."

In all, the attorney general's office determined nearly 18 million of the 22 million total comments the FC received ahead of its 2017 ruling were fake.

James argues this is not an isolated incident. During the investigation, they discovered the lead generation firms working to generate the fake comments in regard to net neutrality were also engaged in unrelated campaigns to influence other regulatory agencies and public officials.

At least two of the lead generators involved reached an agreement with James' office and will pay more than $4.4 million in penalties.