NY's AG Is Trying To Tie Major ISPs To Those Bogus Net Neutrality Comments
from the ill-communication dept
Last year you might recall that the New York AG’s office began investigating who was behind all of those bogus comments that flooded the FCC’s website during the net neutrality repeal. As we noted then, “somebody” paid a proxy organization to flood the FCC comment period with a myriad of fake comments. Some of those comments hijacked the real identities of real people (like myself). Others utilized a bot to post a myriad of fake support for Ajit Pai using a hacked database of some kind. Some of the most enthusiastic supporters of Ajit Pai’s policies were, interestingly enough, dead.
When the AG’s office reached out to the FCC for help getting to the bottom of who was behind the fake comments, the FCC completely stonewalled them, rejecting nine requests for data between June and November of last year. The FCC has subsequently stonewalled numerous FOIA requests regarding who used the necessary APIs to submit the fraudulent comments in bulk, resulting in a lawsuit by journalist Jason Prechtel. A court recently ruled in Prechtel’s favor, demanding the FCC release at least some data (in a month or two) that could identify the culprits.
Meanwhile, New York AG Barbara Underwood has expanded her investigation into the bogus comments, subpoenaing more than a dozen ISP-linked lobbying groups (and a few consumer advocacy firms) for additional data on the methodology used to submit the fake support for the FCC’s plan. Subpoena targets including groups like the telecom-industry funding lobbying vessel Broadband for America, which we’ve pretty consistently highlighted for some fairly sleazy and disingenuous behavior.
In her statement to me, Underwood stated that at this juncture they’ve found that 9.53 million of the 22 million net neutrality comments submitted to the FCC were fake:
“The FCC?s public comment process was corrupted by millions of fake comments?and our investigation found that as many at 9.53 million of those comments stole the identities of real people,? Underwood said in a statement.
?The law protects New Yorkers from deception and the misuse of their identities. And all Americans deserve a fair and transparent process for determining public policy that impacts their daily lives. My office will get to the bottom of what happened and hold accountable those responsible for using stolen identities to distort public opinion on net neutrality.”
It’s worth noting that Prechtel’s analysis and reporting so far has claimed that one of the key players in this whole shady affair may have been DC-based news website and lobbying and policy organization CQ Roll Call, which e-mailed the FCC last year looking for advice on how to submit millions of comments on behalf of an unnamed client. CQ Roll Call was indeed among those subpoenaed by the NY AG this week. Granted there’s a universe of fairly shady organizations that routinely help all manner of companies submit fake comments to try and sway government policy during official proceedings.
Again, it’s fairly obvious who benefited from trying to downplay the massive public opposition to the FCC’s plan by using cardboard cutouts. Getting a hold of all of the FCC API and other server-side data will certainly go a long way toward that end. The question really, as it has always been, is whether any of the proxy organizations involved were dumb enough to leave a paper trail leading to funders like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, or Charter.