US ISPs bought millions of false testimonials about net neutrality

A group of ISPs bought 8.5 million false testimonials from third parties in 2017, according to the New York Attorney General, who were supposed to influence the US net neutrality law. There is no evidence that the ISPs were aware of the practices.

The US regulator FCC received more than 22 million submissions in 2017 in which US citizens shared their views on the potential change to US net neutrality. According to Letitia James, the New York State Attorney General, more than 18 million of these submissions were false. The numbers of counterfeit supporters and opponents were reportedly in balance.

More than 7.7 million submitted false views were made by a 19-year-old American student from California. About 8.5 million of the submissions were purchased by Broadband for America, an umbrella organization that includes Internet service providers AT&T and Comcast, according to the attorney general. Half a million letters were also sent from the BFA to the US Congress expressing alleged support for the abolition of net neutrality. These views of so-called ordinary Americans were intended to aid then-FCC chairman Ajit Pai in his advocacy of abolishing US net neutrality.

The umbrella organization paid a total of $8.2 million to campaign companies that, according to the attorney general, were meant to give the impression that the abolition of net neutrality had a broad social basis. The 8.5 million entries received by the FCC cost $4.2 million.

The report found that the hired campaign companies had used marketing techniques to obtain personal data from millions of people. They then used the collected data to submit false submissions to the FCC and to prepare associated admissions for the individuals involved. The campaign companies behind this campaign were fined $4.4 million.

The attorney general said it found no evidence that US ISPs were aware of the campaign companies’ practices. Still, she is concerned that the umbrella organization was trying to cover up its role in the campaign. She is also concerned that the organization relied on third parties to focus on quantitative rather than qualitative collection of submissions, and that democracy was undermined by the submission of false testimony.