Three Companies To Pay $615,000 Over Faked Net Neutrality Comments

Three companies accused of falsifying millions of public comments to support the contentious 2017 repeal of net neutrality rules nave agreed to pay $615,000 in penalties to New York and other states, New York’s attorney general said Wednesday, The Associated Press reported.

New York Attorney General Letitia James posted a press release on her official website titled: “Attorney General James Secures $615,000 from Companies that Supplied Fake Comments to Influence FCC’s Repeal of Net Neutrality Rules”. The press release was posted on May 10, 2023.

New York Attorney General Letitia James today secured $615,000 from three companies, LCX, Lead ID, and Ifficient, that supplied millions of fake public comments to influence a 2017 proceeding by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to repeal net neutrality rules. Net neutrality prohibits broadband providers from blocking, slowing down, or charging companies to prioritize certain content on the internet.

An investigation by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) found that the fake comments used the identities of millions of consumers, including thousands of New Yorkers, without their knowledge or consent. Collectively, the three companies have agreed to pay $615,000 in penalties and disgorgement. This is the second series of agreements secured by Attorney General James with companies that supplied fake comments to the FCC…

…Today’s agreements are the result of an investigation by OAG that uncovered widespread fraud and abusive practices surrounding efforts to sway the FCC in the agency’s 2017 net neutrality rule making proceeding. As detailed by a report by OAG, the nation’s largest broadband companies funded a secret campaign to generate millions of comments to the FCC in 2017. These comments provided “cover” for the FCC to repeal net neutrality rules.

To help generate these comments, the broadband industry engaged commercial lead generators that used advertisements and prizes, like gift cards and sweepstakes entries, to encourage consumers to join the campaign. However, nearly every lead generator that was hired to enroll consumers in the campaign instead simply fabricated consumers’ responses. As a result, more than 8.5 million fake comments that impersonated real people were submitted to the FCC, and more than half a million fake letters were sent to Congress.

The press release also stated that LCX and its principals will pay $400,000 in penalties and disgorgement to New York and $100,000 to the San Diego District Attorney’s Office. Lead ID and its principal will pay $30,000 in penalties and disgorgement to New York. Ifficient will pay $63,750 in penalties and disgorgement to New York, and $21,250 to Colorado.

Engadget reported that the fines come after a 2021 Attorney General report that found over 18 million of the 22 million comments on net neutrality were fake. While there were signs of trouble at the time, the FCC under then-chairman Ajit Pai fought attempts to investigate and address the spam.

I remember feeling like something was off back in 2017, and was very confused about why so many Americans wanted to remove net neutrality and the protections it provides. Attorney General James has now made it clear that the entire scheme was fraudulent.