The Office of the New York Attorney General said in a new report that a campaign funded by the broadband industry submitted millions of fake comments supporting the 2017 repeal of net neutrality.
The Federal Communications Commission’s contentious 2017 repeal undid Obama-era rules that barred internet service providers from slowing or blocking websites and apps or charging companies more for faster speeds to consumers. The industry had sued to stop these rules during the Obama administration but lost.
The proceeding generated a record-breaking number of comments — more than 22 million — and nearly 18 million were fake, the attorney general’s office found. It has long been known that the tally included fake comments.
One 19-year-old in California submitted more than 7.7 million pro-net neutrality comments. The attorney general’s office did not identify the origins of another “distinct group” of more than 1.6 million pro-net neutrality comments, many of which used mailing addresses outside the U.S.
A broadband industry group, called Broadband for America, spent $4.2 million generating more than 8.5 million of the fake FCC comments. Half a million fake letters were also sent to Congress.
The goal of the broadband industry campaign, according to internal documents the attorney general’s office received, was to make it seem like there was “widespread grassroots support” for the repeal of net neutrality that could give the FCC chairman at the time, Ajit Pai, “volume and intellectual cover” for the repeal.
The agency is supposed to use the comments it receives, from industry and public-industry groups and the public, to shape how it makes its rules.
The FCC did not immediately answer how or if it has changed its commenting process, but the acting chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, said in a prepared statement that “widespread problems with the record” of the 2017 proceedings “was troubling at the time” and the agency has to learn and improve the commenting process.
Many expect the FCC to try to reinstate net neutrality rules once a third Democratic commissioner is appointed. The agency is currently split half Democrat and Republican, which makes undoing the repeal unlikely.