The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has revealed that the broadband industry spent $4.2 million to generate and submit more than 8.5 million fake comments to the FCC, creating what appears to be widespread grassroots opposition to existing net neutrality rules.
Democrat and Attorney General Letitia James said her office has reached agreements with three companies involved in the program – Fluent Inc., Opt-Intelligence Inc., and React2Media Inc. – that impose a hefty $4.4 million fine and require each company to implement comprehensive reforms in future campaigns.
The investigation found that nearly 18 million of the more than 22 million public comments received by the FCC, both for and against neutrality, were faked.
Fluent, a New York-based company that provided more than 5 million digital net neutrality signatures to the broadband industry, agreed to pay $3.7 million.
Opt-Intelligence and React2Media did not respond to requests for comment.
According to the investigation, the three companies were also involved in more than 100 other unrelated campaigns to influence regulators and public officials by generating fake comments to influence the regulatory process.
The FCC under former President Barack Obama passed landmark net neutrality rules in 2015 that prohibited Internet service providers from blocking traffic or offering paid fast lanes. The regulations, opposed by the broadband industry, were overturned by the FCC under the Trump presidency in 2017.
Days before Trump’s inauguration, a document circulating among a small group of senior broadband executives contained a plan to overturn the FCC’s existing net neutrality regulations.
James’ office also announced that the FCC received an additional 9.3 million fake net neutrality comments using fake identities.
Supporters of net neutrality rules championed provisions to ensure a free and open Internet, but the broadband and telecommunications industries argued that the rules would restrict investment.
For more information, read the original story in Reuters.