New York Attorney General's Office has summoned more than a dozen interest groups, lobbyists, and consultants as part of an investigation into falsified comments to the Federal Communications Commission over its proposal to restrict its regulation of the Internet.  The civilian subpoenas aim to determine who was behind millions of comments sent by the names of real people who did not authorize them, one person familiar with the investigation. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement that her office had found up to 9.5 million comments that appeared to be filed using the names and addresses of real people who had no idea that they were mentioned in the comments were.
An Inquiry The Wall Street Journal found thousands of people last year who said that their names were used without their permission to comment on FCC rules.
The Justice Minister's years-long investigation aims to fake comments on both sides of the issue. Among the preloaded people are Broadband for America, a group that is supported by
AT & T
and other Internet service providers that are repealing the Internet rules of the Obama era, known as net neutrality, as well as consumer groups that support the Obama rules, such as Fight for the Future and Free Press
Broadband America and AT & T did not respond to requests for comment. Press spokesman Tim Karr said, "We respond to your requests and welcome this request." Fighting for the future Executive Director Sarah Roth-Gaudett said: "We welcome this inquiry" and hopes it will reveal the perpetrators of the counterfeits.
Several consulting firms hired by industry and consumer groups have also received subpoenas, according to the person familiar with the investigation and the managers of some companies. These companies were contractors and subcontractors to the massive lobbying efforts that helped generate more than 20 million comments on the FCC's decision to reduce Internet regulation.
The New York Inquiry Is One of the First Official Investigations in Lobby Companies Promising Special Interest They Can Get Thousands, Even Millions of People to Support Their Concerns Against Government. The sector is sometimes called "AstroTurf lobbying" to create artificial grassroots support.
A summons to Century Strategies, a public relations firm used by Broadband for America. Century, whose CEO is Ralph Reed, former chairman of the Christian Coalition, boasts on his website that his "directors are among the nation's most effective grassroots organizers" and that he uses sophisticated digital tools to support his "core game".
"Our work has been carried out to the highest standards of integrity and we stand by it," said Mr. Reed when asked to comment on the New York Probe.
A small company in Mineral, VA, called Media Bridge LLC, also received a summons. Shane Cory, Managing Partner of Media Bridge, said he is looking for relevant materials to respond to the subpoena.
Media Bridge used online advertising to gather names of people supporting FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's plans to lift the Obama era. Mr. Cory, former CEO of the conservative covert investigative group Project Veritas, said his work has led to legitimate comments, but "bad actors" who file counterfeits have given his company trouble.
He said part The blame lies with government agencies that set no limits to the publication of comments and do not require credentials or commonly used tools to hinder bots. Mr. Pai recognized the problem and recently told Congress that FCC plans to improve its commenting system to prevent fraud.
"Unfortunately, there are no borders, the Wild West out there," said Cory. "The corruption of the public process will happen, especially if you have billion-dollar issues at stake."
Media Bridge worked with LCX Digital, a Californian online advertising company that also received a summons investigation. LCX did not return a caller search comment.
The Attorney General has also summoned the Center for Individual Freedom, an Alexandria-Va based group, to support Pai's repeal of the rules and write one of the most-cited comments on the FCC website: a complaint about " An unprecedented regulatory power of the Obama administration. "
The Journal's investigation reached 1
The center did not respond to a request for comment.