Late last month, the FCC opened up its website for comment on “Restoring Internet Freedom.” Heretofore, it might be said that anti-net neutrality advocates were turning in their graves over the Obama-era net neutrality rule changes.
Alarmingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, it appears that some of the voices that have come out in support of the recent Republican-led FCC action are literally from the grave – from people who couldn’t possibly have an opinion any longer… because they are dead! Yes, it is alleged that some emails have actually come from dead people, who may have had their identities co-opted to express support for the change in net neutrality regulations.
Moreover, maybe as many as 20% of the emails sent (some 500,000 of the 2.6 million received) purporting to support the FCC rules changes may have been phony “copypasta,” and bear the tell-tale signature of a bot. The give-away, apparently, is that the comments all contain the same misleading rhetoric, many submitted in alphabetical order using perfect formatting. The stakes are indeed high, especially for the flush Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
So I guess it is not surprising, if the allegations are true, that Republicans would try to “goose” support for their actions, because they are so unpopular with the general public. This comes on the heels of an alleged DDoS attack that silenced voices in support of Title II net neutrality protections.
The country may be evenly divided over party allegiance, but when it comes to the issue of a free and open internet, this is not the case. Polls indicate that the vast majority of Americans do not favor the latest rules changes. So it would appear that forces for the changes are attempting to tip the scales in their favor. How is this possible? And who is behind the ruse?
Based on past history, it is not too hard to guess. Just think: Who has the most riding on the net neutrality rollback? Well, back in 2014 it was suspected and reported that a group allied with the cable and telecom lobby, American Commitment, rented space on several email lists oriented towards older conservative voters, and sent misleading emails soliciting comments to the FCC opposing net neutrality rules.
Could this be history repeating itself? It doesn’t take too big a stretch of the imagination to implicate deep-pocketed lobbyists for broadband companies such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.
In response to these shenanigans, this week more than a dozen people, appalled that their names have been misused and their views mis-characterized, have penned a letter to Ajit Pai, the FCC commissioner, demanding an investigation. The letter reads,
“Whoever is behind this stole our names and addresses, publicly exposed our private information without our permission, and used our identities to file a political statement we did not sign onto. While it may be convenient for you to ignore this, given that it was done in an attempt to support your position, it cannot be the case that the FCC moves forward on such a major public debate without properly investigating this known attack.”
Which prompts another question: How were the identities gleaned?
Apparently, many of the names and addresses used to post these comments were stolen during a number of different network hacks over the years. According to digital rights group Fight for the Future, at least two comments were filed to the FCC’s website by people who died before possibly having the means to post comments, pro or con.
Furthermore, the text used for the fake comments appears drawn from a conservative anti-net neutrality group called Center for Individual Freedom, and bears the hallmarks of similarly fraudulent anti-net neutrality comments submitted during the 2014 fight. The FCC denies any complicity, of course, so don’t hold your breath if you’re looking for redress.
Sadly, this tiff is likely to go nowhere. The opponents of the Republican-led changes are merely stirring the pot. The demise of net neutrality is all but a fait accompli, as Republicans control the FCC, Congress, and the White House. This is not a hot-button issue for them, and the mid-term elections are still 18 months away – long enough for voters to forget this issue.
It will also be forgotten by Democrats and liberals who are looking for bigger fish to fry, and bigger battles to be fought on the horizon. The net neutrality issue will be but a footnote – a faint memory until a new administration and a different party are once again in power.