from the fake-plastic-trees dept
We’ve long discussed how the Pai FCC’s net neutrality repeal was plagued with millions of fraudulent comments, many of which were submitted by a bot pulling names from a hacked database of some kind. Millions of ordinary folks (like myself) had their identities used to support Pai’s unpopular plan, as did several Senators. Numerous journalists like Jason Prechtel have submitted FOIA requests for more data (server logs, IP addresses, API data, anything) that might indicate who was behind the fraudulent comments, who may have bankrolled them, and what the Pai FCC knew about it.
Those efforts have slowly been paying off. Back in January, Gizmodo linked some of the fake comments to Trump associates and some DC lobbying shops like CQ Roll Call. This week, Buzzfeed went even further, drawing a direct line between the fake comments and the broadband industry:
“A BuzzFeed News investigation ? based on an analysis of millions of comments, along with court records, business filings, and interviews with dozens of people ? offers a window into how a crucial democratic process was skewed by one of the most prolific uses of political impersonation in US history. In a key part of the puzzle, two little-known firms, Media Bridge and LCX Digital, working on behalf of industry group Broadband for America, misappropriated names and personal information as part of a bid to submit more than 1.5 million statements favorable to their cause.”
Broadband For America, who we’ve discussed previously, pretends to be a coalition of “consumer groups” and other interests “dedicated to protecting a free and open internet for all Americans.” But it’s little more than a cut out for Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and other industry giants. Via a slow and painstaking FOIA process, Buzzfeed ultimately linked many of the stolen identities to major data breaches like the hack of modern business solutions by matching the fraudulent names via the hack database at HaveIBeenPwned.
Just in case the lede gets buried here: the broadband industry hired shady goons to use stolen data to create fake public support for anti-consumer tech policy. And nobody (especially the FCC) has done a damn thing about it.
Granted the net neutrality repeal is just one of many examples of lobbyists polluting regulatory comment periods (usually the only time consumers are allowed to give feedback on policy decisions) with fake people, and both Media Bridge and LCX Digital appear to have other clients beyond just the broadband sector:
“The anti?net neutrality comments harvested on behalf of Broadband for America, the industry group that represented telecommunications giants including AT&T, Cox, and Comcast, were uploaded to the FCC website by Media Bridge founder Shane Cory, a former executive director of both the Libertarian Party and the conservative sting group Project Veritas. Cory has claimed credit for ?20 or 30? major public advocacy campaigns in recent years, including, he says, record-setting submissions to the IRS, Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and ?probably a handful of others.”
Classy! Given that both the DOJ and the NY Attorney General are (supposedly still) conducting ongoing inquiries into the fake net neutrality comments, this may not be the last time you’ll see these lobbying shops’ names in lights. Meanwhile it’s rather ironic that the same week a court ruling comes down supporting (mostly) the FCC’s repeal, a big chunk of the “public support” for the repeal — and the FCC’s primary justification for it (that the rules stifled broadband investment) — were clearly proven to be fraudulent. So far, one gets the sneaking suspicion the US legal system may just be broken.