The largest internet US providers funded a campaign that generated “8.5 million false comments” to the Federal Communications Commission as part of ISPs’ fight against net neutrality rules under the Trump administration, according to a report published Thursday by New York State Attorney General Letitia James.
Nearly 18 million out of 22 million comments were fabricated, including pro and anti-net neutrality submissions, according to the report. A 19-year-old submitted 7.7 million comments favorable to net neutrality under fake names generated at random. But the astroturf effort funded by the broadband industry stands out because it uses the names of real people without their consent, with third-party companies hired by the industry faking consent recordings, according to the report.
The New York attorney general’s office opened its investigation in 2017 and declared it stone wall facing from the president of the FCC Ajit Pai, who refused requests for evidence. But after a years-long process of obtaining and analyzing “tens of thousands of internal emails, planning documents, bank statements, invoices, and data comprising hundreds of millions of records,” the office said it “found that millions of bogus comments were submitted thanks to a covert campaign, funded by the country’s largest broadband companies, to fabricate material for the repeal of net neutrality rules using lead generators. “
It was clear before Pai completes the repeal in December 2017, millions of people – including those who died – posed as comments about net neutrality. Even industry-funded research find that 98.5% of genuine reviews opposed Pai’s deregulation plan. But Thursday’s report reveals more details about the number of bogus comments and how the broadband industry has been involved.
“The broadband industry could not, in fact, count on grassroots support for its campaign because the public overwhelmingly supported net neutrality rules,” the report notes. “So the broadband industry tried to fabricate support for the repeal by hiring companies to generate comments for a fee.”
The report says the industry campaign was led by Broadband for America (BFA), an umbrella group that includes Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Cox and CenturyLink. Broadband for America also includes three business groups, namely CTIA, which represents the wireless communications industry; NCTA – The Internet & Television Association; and the Telecommunications Industry Association. Verizon is not listed as a member of Broadband for America, but it is part of the CTIA.
“BFA has concealed its role in the campaign by recruiting anti-regulatory advocacy groups – unrelated to the broadband industry – to serve as the public faces of the campaign,” the GA report said.
The “main funders” of the Broadband for America network anti-neutrality campaign “included a trading group and three companies that are among the largest players in the US internet, telephone and cable market, with over 65 million US subscribers among and a combined market value of about half a trillion dollars, ”the report says.
Comcast, Charter, and AT&T are America’s largest members of Broadband. Comcast has 31.1 million residential customers in the broadband, telephone and television categories combined. charter has 29.4 million such customers. AT&T has 14.1 million Internet customers and 15.9 million TV customers, but it is not known how much overlap there is between these two categories given that many DirecTV users do not live in AT&T wired territory.
The report specifically mentions Comcast, Charter and AT&T without naming any other suppliers. The only mention of these ISPs came in a sentence saying, “Net neutrality refers to the principle that companies that provide Internet service to your home, business, and mobile phone, like AT&T, Comcast, and Charter (often referred to as Internet service providers, ISPs or broadband providers), should not discriminate between content on the Internet. “
With broadband companies hiring third-party providers to run the campaign, the attorney general’s office said it had found no evidence that ISPs themselves “had firsthand knowledge” of the fraudulent behavior. Broadband companies spent $ 8.2 million on their anti-net neutrality campaign, including $ 4.2 million to submit the 8.5 million comments to the FCC and half a million letters to Congress, according to the report.