Investigators, Reporters Close In On The Origins Of Those Fake Net Neutrality Comments

from the fake-plastic-support dept

As several Attorneys General and the FBI investigate who was behind the fake net neutrality comments that plagued the FCC website during the late 2017 repeal, reporters like Jason Prechtel and Gizmodo's Dell Cameron continue to slowly and methodically connect the dots. Last month, Cameron obtained leaked investigation data linking many of the bogus comments to several Trumpland-linked astroturfing and policy operations like "Free Our Internet," a bogus consumer-rights group specifically built by ex-Trump campaign staffer Christie-Lee McNally.

And this week, both Prechtel and Cameron leaned on FOIA data to discover that another sizeable chunk of the bogus comments were allegedly driven by both CQ Roll Call, a DC-based news and policy organization, and Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF), a "dark money" influence group with historical ties to defending tobacco companies:

"Founded in 1998, CFIF is a reportedly a dark-money group whose early roots lie in defending Big Tobacco, but which supported the repeal of net neutrality more recently and has campaigned aggressively against state laws requiring political groups like itself to disclose the sources of its funding. Along with CQ, the group is among the 14 entities subpoenaed by the New York attorney general last fall, as first reported by former BuzzFeed reporter Kevin Collier in October.

As late as last February, CFIF President Jeffrey Mazzella praised the FCC’s rollback of the Title II classification of broadband service underlying net neutrality in the Daily Caller, labeling the policy an “unprecedented power grab by the Obama administration,” which, he claimed, upended “two decades of bipartisan consensus for light-touch regulation of the internet sector."

You might recall that many of these efforts during the net neutrality repeal involved hijacking the names of both dead and living people (like myself), and using them to post comments supporting the repeal during the FCC open comment period. Most of these folks (obviously in the case of deceased) had never even visited the FCC website, much less heard about net neutrality. In one instance, a bot was used to pluck names from a hacked database of some kind, posting bogus, supportive-but-fake comments, name by name, in perfect alphabetical order.

In short, several groups were created by DC policy shops to generate the illusion of public support for a net neutrality repeal poll after poll shows was strongly opposed by a bipartisan majority of Americans. Especially since repealing those rules opened the door to ISPs using their network power to erect additional anti-competitive barriers for video competitors, driving up costs for everybody in the internet ecosystem.

None of this stuff is new. Telecom and other industries have spent decades creating entirely bogus consumer groups to prop up bad policy. And when companies aren't busy having DC policy shops create fake groups, they can often be found co-opting existing groups; promising cash infusions in exchange for quid-pro-quo support for company policy positions. Countless government agency proceedings have been plagued by similar fake comment issues, suggesting this sort of stuff is a pretty common option on the menu of many K Street lobbying and policy shops.

The goal is always the same: create the illusion of broad support for tech policy that consumers and actual experts strongly oppose, usually with very good reason. While that itself isn't illegal (whether it should be is a good conversation to have if we ever want to fix the country's garbage lobbying rules), identity fraud clearly is.

Of course identifying the dubious constructs acting as intermediaries is one thing. Connecting those constructs to entrenched broadband providers like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast is something else entirely. Telecom operators historically leave layers upon layers of deniability between themselves and such groups, and aren't usually dumb enough to put much of this work in writing. As such, whether the NY AG, FBI, and other investigators are able to document a real money trail to the obvious beneficiaries of these shenanigans will be interesting to watch.

Regardless of the outcome, there are more than a few DC policy outfits that aren't sleeping quite as well as they were this time two years ago. They've been engaging in this sort of behavior for years, but the extreme unpopularity of Ajit Pai's assault on net neutrality likely brought significantly more light and attention to the sleazy practice than they've historically grown accustomed to.

Filed Under: dark money, fake comments, fcc, foia, lobbying, net neutrality, transparency
Companies: center for individual freedom, cfif, cq roll call


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  1. icon
    ECA (profile), 22 Feb 2019 @ 11:53am

    Seen this for years..

    This pops up every once in awhile.. But nothing is done..And if it is, the company disappears and comes back with a different name.

    WE have laws against Lobbyists and these groups but HOW do we find and get rid of them..And how do we keep those laws from Being BENT/ABUSED/gotten rid of..

    The Gov. generally had agencies they created for certain things and to look into Areas they had questions about.. but Now we have Corp agencies filling the ballot box.

    Its not the Election system we have the big problem with..Its the little groups that have been created, that can supply ANY info the corps WANTS the gov. to believe..

    The Gov, tends to be a closed box, and the only info they get is what is fed to them through the hole in the side, created by corps.. When someone comes in with a FEW bags of letters and SOMEONE tells you they all say "????" this... do you have the time to check all the letters??? We can make things worse with the internet. Where is the validation of identity. Since 9/11 we have had to redo most of our drivers license and ID cards...but the gov cant figure out any other way to prove we have AN OPINION..

    there is the opinion, that Voting booths cant Be corrupted.. Ummm, keep thinking that. you have a nicce fantasy there. the Secret to it is very simple...for all the names on the voting lists..have they ever gone out and checked who they are?? Have they cross referenced these lists from county to county state to state.. NOPE, never.. How many locations do you think 1 person can signup to vote in.. how many Fake Social security numbers are out there?? Fake as in, taken from children30-50 years ago, and gotten the SS# from a child that died before age 2-3.. With a little imagination, we could even create his OWN family..

    Lets not get into conspiracy now. Lets not SEE' if a theory is right or wrong.. when a corp can walk up and Pay you $1million to Change a few numbers or slide a decimal..

    lets make it simple and easy to see.. A corp needs something, like new furniture...gets someone to make a small business, gets all that is needed, and as a Beginning small business, gets lots of state/fed discounts to keep going...but after the main corp is done, that little one, disappears.. no taxes paid, great discounts for all the good they bought that you would never see, and the company probably got CUTS on most of its taxes as a startup..so the state dont track them down..even if they could.. Sounds simple, and there are a few missing points(I wont explain them), but it is done.

    Good luck folks.. we need to decide what to do with this country to do...What? In capitalism, you work until you die...the only old retired persons are those on top.


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