Technology FCC’s net neutrality rollback overwhelmed by bogus industry comments, investigation finds
NY AG report finds 18 million FCC net neutrality comments were fake
Before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality at the end of 2017, the agency collected public opinion on the policy. In all, it said it received nearly 22 million comments. Over the years, there's been a fair amount of discussion surrounding where many of those came from, with a study from that same year suggesting that only six percent of the comments were unique. Following years of investigation, the Office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James has published a report on exactly what happened in 2017.
The New York attorney general’s officeconfirming that some of the US’s largest broadband providers engaged in a massive campaign to flood the Federal Communications Commission with fake comments in the run-up to the commission’s 2017 order to roll back net neutrality.
The attorney general’s multi-yearfound that fake comments accounted for the vast majority of comments received in response to the order — nearly 18 million, out of a total of 22 million.
Out of those 18 million, 8.5 million were submitted through a process called “co-registration,” which saw outside companies promising “gift cards and sweepstakes entries” in order to attract consumers to join in the campaign. They would then use that information to file form responses to the order, even as the people behind the comments had no idea their names had been used.
Biden administration's new broadband map shows stark digital divide
The publicly available interactive map differs greatly from the FCC's flawed broadband maps, showing far more unconnected and underconnected communities in the US.The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, under the purview of the US Commerce Department, developed the map using a combination of data from both public and private sources. The result is a map that shows far more people not served by broadband than the FCC's maps indicate.
According to the report, many of these companiesas well. More than half a million fake letters to Congress were also fabricated.
The attorney general’s office found that the largest groups funding this influence campaign were three of the largest telecom companies in the US, together with an industry trade group. All told, the parties represented more than 65 million subscribers and a combined market value of half a trillion dollars.
The FCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Americans’ voices are being drowned out by masses of fake comments and messages being submitted to the government to sway decision-making,” New York Attorney General Letitia James saidThursday. “Instead of actually looking for real responses from the American people, marketing companies are luring vulnerable individuals to their websites with freebies, co-opting their identities, and fabricating responses that giant corporations are then using to influence the policies and laws that govern our lives.”
FCC slaps robocaller with $225 million fine as part of broader crackdown
It's the biggest fine in the agency's history, as the new acting FCC chairwoman takes on robocallers.The agency alleges in a statement Wednesday that the telemarketers illegally spoofed phone numbers to sell short-term, limited duration health insurance plans, which falsely claimed to offer health insurance plans from well-known health insurance companies, such as Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, and UnitedHealth Group.
The three main companies found to have falsely influenced the FCC’s rollback — Fluent, React2Media, and Opt-Intelligence — entered into settlements with the attorney general’s office, requiring the companies to pay over $4 million in total.
The attorney general’s office also found 9.3 million fake comments were sent to the FCC in support of net neutrality using false identities. “Most of these comments were submitted by a single person — a 19-year-old college student using automated software,” James said in the statement.
Concerns were raised about automated commenting during the comment period, with a number of media outlets reporting on comments filed either by dead people or people who had no recollection of filing a comment. The New York attorney general’s office began investigating the claims, a month before the FCC was set to vote to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality rules.
The FCC is about to start holding providers accountable for anti-robocall efforts .
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is introducing a new database all voice providers will have to use to allow the agency to track the work they're doing to stop robocalls. Starting September 28th, 2021, phone companies will be required to block any incoming traffic from providers not listed in the Robocall Mitigation Database. In particular, any companies that got an extension to implement STIR/SHAKEN, a protocol that allows a carrier to verify a caller ID before it reaches its intended recipient, will have to file detailed reports with the agency on their progress towards putting the technology in place.