I'm pretty sure most individuals following the story of net neutrality knew the fcc's ballot box was compromised.
It would be nice if someone could face consequences for the fraud put on by the FCC. I won't hold my breath though.
These fake "grassroots" operatives merely abused the web-commentary system in order to keep the FCC leadership (and Republicans) from being completely humiliated by the sheer number of people in favor of net neutrality. Turns out, they got sloppy and went a bit overboard.
What is really disturbing, however, is that the company named, "CQ" is in the business of automating "campaigns" with software and data analysis. To them, it doesn't matter WHAT the campaign actually is as long as they get a paying customer-- smears and disinformation is just another day of work for them.
There's so many layers of slime here, it's hard to know where to start.
Public comment is explicitly intended to guide policy. It’s not a vote but the entire point of the process is to get feedback before a policy is finalized and most agencies attempt to address common points.
It’s reasonable to question the inherent assumption of good faith with the current administration but we’re also in an unusual time where the most cynical view of previous administrations are now the smart money view of how things work.
In this case, having tons of AstroTurf comments allows them to say that there’s public support outside of large ISPs. Given how anticompetitive the decision was, they needed that fig leaf.
I suspect this incident demonstrates the scope of disinformation campaigns and the industry that enables them.
It is totally possible that cramming a couple million fake comments into the FCC was done solely for the purpose providing a politician a "talking point" in favor of getting rid of net neutrality.
The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration imposed on the internet is smothering innovation, damaging the American economy and obstructing job creation. I urge the Federal Communications Commission to end the bureaucratic regulatory overreach of the internet known as Title II and restore the bipartisan light-touch regulatory consensus that enabled the internet to flourish for more than 20 years. The plan currently under consideration at the FCC to repeal Obama's Title II power grab is a positive step forward and will help to promote a truly free and open internet for everyone.
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
This is alleging that CQ impersonated people to file comments with the FCC. I don't know if this meets the legal requirements to be considered some kind of fraud, but it sure seems like it should.
The State of NY and the FBI cannot comment because of ongoing investigations... How about the FBI interviews Ajit Pai, who can't not lie, and they throw him in jail just like Martha Stewart.
What CQ did and what the FCC is help hide is felony impersonation in most states. Each occurrence (sounds like there was at least 8k from the WSJ investigation) could be a felony.
> What exactly are you saying is a lie?
> I'd like you to point to a single lie, since you're asserting that he lied without pointing to any.
You can make as many leaf comments as your karma allows but isn’t going to change anything.
If you look at the linked WSJ article you'll see there were fake comments on many of the common templates, some associated with pro-NN groups and some against.
If you're suggesting that CQ was just the unwitting middleman between the FCC and some other group that was submitting the fraudulent comments through their site, that would have been trivially detectable and filtered out by CQ:
> “Before we submit these comments (via the API) we remove any bad or questionable submissions,” he told Gizmodo. “On a technical level, a few of the things we do include running the email address through an email validator, eliminate duplicate records with the same email address, and remove multiple submissions from the same IP address.”
No, it's focusing on many different comments, including some from pro-NN groups and some from anti-NN groups. 14 groups in total were subpoenaed.
The WSJ article linked (can read it at http://archive.is/sp9Q7) says 4,622 people polled said they hadn't left a particular comment that was pro-NN, which is the majority of the 7,741 total responses that claimed they didn't leave the comment that bears their name.
>If you're suggesting that CQ was just the unwitting middleman between the FCC and some other group that was submitting the fraudulent comments through their site, that would have been trivially detectable and filtered out by CQ:
It's trivial for any teen on 4chan to defeat those measures, come on. Pretty much everything that's out there could in theory have been done by a single 14-year old for laughs. Connect to websites that are collecting names without extensive validation, use a few IPs, etc.
What's more likely - that 14 different groups, some on the pro-NN side and some on the anti-side, all chose to commit crimes by faking names and addresses, or that one bad actor connected to a few of them to troll?
Even that WSJ article focuses largely on that specific blatant example, and notes that the several anti-NN statements they examined were "63%, 72% and 80% bogus comments" (the single pro-NN statement they examined "was 32% bogus.")
Astroturf exists and is a problem on all sides, yes, but this specific instance is far beyond the pale. Which is presumably why it merits this year-long investigation.
> It's trivial for any teen on 4chan to defeat those measures
That's... debatable. But also beside the point. CQ claims they vetted their submissions for "questionable submissions". If that vetting failed to notice that an identical comment was submitted through them that many times, with names in alphabetical order, then they either are lying about vetting their submissions for accuracy, or they are themselves the ones committing the fraud.
OP is narrowly focused on a particular one out of fourteen companies under investigation for unclear reasons. They don't say whether they've tried similar analysis of any of the other form comments. If I had to make a wild guess, I'd say they expect more clicks here than with a more in depth investigation of everyone involved, for reasons left as an exercise to the reader.
>Astroturf exists and is a problem on all sides, yes, but this specific instance is far beyond the pale. Which is presumably why it merits this year-long investigation.
14 organizations are under investigation, not just one.
>But also beside the point. CQ claims they vetted their submissions for "questionable submissions".
And also gives a few examples, all of which are trivial to bypass, and all of which are automated, so it's not clear why you'd think they are manually looking at any of these before submitting unless it fails the automated tests.
I did miss that, fair enough -- amend my statement to "Which is presumably why it merits this year-long investigation of these 14 organizations".
> it's not clear why you'd think they are manually looking at any of these
It's not clear why you'd think 818,000 (per WSJ) identical comments submitted in alphabetical order should pass automated tests?
There's no reason to think they were submitted originally in alphabetical order. The most likely possibility here is that CQ sorted them before submitting to the FCC.
(Also, FWIW I personally witnessed it while trying to submit my own comment on the issue; the viewable posted comments were about 98% duplicates of that one "The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration imposed on the internet" etc, and the names were somewhere in the E's.)
This wasn't real-time submission, and this should be clear from OP.
Meanwhile CQ is repeatedly insistent that the submissions be recorded individually, and not by the bulk csv method; and when the API limits turn out to be too strict they go to great effort to do it anyway: "We will need to set up multiple servers to feed the API simultaneously to meet the delivery needs of our clients" -- 114 api keys compared to one or two for most other groups.
None of which sits well with your idea that they'd intentionally sort them first. Bulk submissions might be expected to be sorted. The assumption for individually submitted comments is that they're individually submitted; it exposes the astroturfiness very clearly when all the identical comments show up in strict order in the docket. (Or at the very least, if this was just a dumb goofup or excessive tidiness, why wouldn't they have simply explained that as the obvious excuse the moment it started being reported? There'd be plenty of supporting evidence, the stage space alone would have had to have been significant)
1. Ajit Pai started working at the FCC under George W. Bush.
2. Ajit Pai was nominated under Obama for a republican seat at the recommendation of Mitch McConnell: no more than 3 FCC commissioners can be of the same party so the split is generally 3 of the president's party and 2 of the opposition, Ajit Pai was a GOP pick.
3. Ajit Pai was made chairman of the FCC by Donald Trump.
Ajit Pai is a thoroughly Republican operative. Getting rid of Pai would not score any points with the republican party (he's doing exactly what he's supposed to do there), nor would it score any points with the democratic party (way too little, way too late, no chance of the damage done being repaired, and what happened was exactly what'd been predicted when he was made chairman).
 when that comes up / is possible: commissioners terms are 5 years (though they may serve up to 6½ if their replacement is not yet appointed) and the seats are staggered so one commissioner's term is up every year
Moreover, Pai has resolutely stood for large companies being insulated from competition and being allowed to extract more money at the expense of the public. That’s Trump’s platform, not an aberration!
> That’s not to say Obama shared Pai’s views—rather, the president was abiding by the convention that the minority party gets to nominate two appointees to the five-seat commission.
an FCC spokesperson said comments from the general public are “generally not substantive, so thus have no impact on a rulemaking.”
There you have it. So the number of comments is useful only when it helps make whatever point they're trying to make.
That also makes sense. Regulatory agencies micro-manage businesses to a greater degree than ordinary legislation, including managing prices. When you remove those things from the purview of the market and business judgment, you can’t subject it to the whims of the public. If you had a vote on it, electricity would be free and there would be no money to invest in power plants or the grid.
(Now, spamming an agency website with fake comments is a highly problematic action from a systems integrity and computer security point of view, no doubt. That’s a separate issue from the agency’s rule making policy.)
After all, they serve the public despite the indirect accountability, and often there is more than one path which the experts deem viable. Public preference can be an appropriate in choosing among the viable paths.
In this situation, when the coordinated fake comments line up with the governing politicians' views, and when both run contrary to the weight of real comments from experts and non-experts alike, it casts doubt on the genuineness of the FCC's good faith in considering even the expert public comments, and therefore on the validity of the rulemaking overall.
The idea that regulatory agencies act solely on the basis of research and law is not believable, because you see regulatory agencies directly reversing rulemakings that were enacted only a few years earlier (not coincidentally, during the previous administration). It beggars belief that objective research and non-partisan legal theory has changed so much in just a few years (again: spanning a presidential election) that regulations have to be revisited and reversed by new rulemakings.
Look at it this way: if FCC rulemaking doesn't take public opinion into account, why did supporters of this rulemaking feel the need to stuff the comment box with a bunch of fake, identical, supportive comments? They should have had no reason to do that, since the rulemaking was in their favor and (supposedly) being done for an objectively right reason. But the truth is, they feared the politics of it and wanted to create a counter-story that blunted the appearance of how unpopular this rulemaking was.
Again: if that wasn't true, then why did people who supported the FCC rulemaking bother to pump in a ton of fake supportive comments? Why did people at the FCC try to cover up that that happened?
It absolutely is. You’re designing a complex and highly coupled system within a framework of rules and constraints. In the case of regulation, the rules and constraints come from economics, while in the case of operating systems they come from computer science. In both situations, there are no known optimal solutions—nobody has designed a mathematically optimal way regulate electricity prices, much less structure an electricity market, just like nobody has designed a mathematically optimal way to manage memory, much less structure a kernel. Thus, a lot of judgment and heuristics and trade offs are involved at every level, and the exercise of that judgment is going to depend heavily on personal philosophies. Margaret Thatcher approaches regulation very differently than Franklin Roosevelt, just as Linus Torvalds approaches operating system kernels very differently than Andrew Tanenbaum. If you hire Tanenbaum versus Torvalds to design you an OS kernel, you can expect a very different result, based on their expert judgment.
Unfortunately, a lot of people think of regulation as just picking from a menu of policy choices, and fail to realize that what you’re really doing is designing economic systems and markets.
A lot of these people vote and donate to candidates! Some even get elected to office. Therefore you cannot dismiss their impact on the regulatory process, even if you would like to.
Because it is ultimately the political process that determines which people--which personal philosophies--will have the resources and power to make regulations.
Phrased another way: if the experts say "doing A will work but have tradeoff B, while doing C will work but have tradeoff D", it's useful to know whether the country prefers B or D so that the commissioner can pick A or C accordingly.
The independence of agencies like the FCC is meant to be independence from any individual President, so that the commissioners are less responsive to the whims of the politicians than the regular executive departments. This is why there are commissioners from both major parties, why their terms of office are longer than a presidential term of office, and why they can only be removed from office for cause rather than merely for making a decision the President didn't like.
Your argument that they should defer to the wishes of the executive is exactly counter to the structure and purpose of how they're set up (even if I admit they're less independent in practice than in theory).
As a point of comparison, regular executive departments are headed by a single political appointee of the president's party, who customarily offers to resign when a new party enters the White House, and who can be fired with no notice for any reason or no reason.
I don’t see how that’s a reasoned basis for picking one versus the other. If a court did that, would you say that was a reasoned decision? (“We have these two competing interpretations of the 14th amendment. The majority of the public opposes interracial marriage, so we will pick the interpretation that allows states to ban it.”)
As to your other point, independent agencies are set up so that the President can’t micromanage specific policies. But the heads are nominated by the president precisely so the executive can set the overall regulatory agenda and philosophies. Remember the context in which the APA was created. The government regulated things like what routes freight trucks could run and the prices. You didn’t want direct executive control over those things. But broad agendas, such as ensuring more freight service to the Midwest? That was squarely within the administration’s power to influence the agency.
The 14th Amendment example is about statutory/constitutional interpretation, whereas the type of ruling we're discussing here is not.
Agency regulations (and common law rulings by courts) often make policy judgments among multiple valid possibilities. Sometimes public attitudes appropriately affect the policy judgment, though of course not always.
Of course agencies and courts don't make popular opinion the primary driver of their rulings, even when they consider it. And I'm certainly not suggesting they should.
As for why the APA was created, that's a very complex question, but that seems more about systematizing the regulatory rulemaking process as delegated from Congress than about the difference between an independent agency and an executive department (both of which are governed by the APA). We're talking about the kind here that's supposedly independent.
The Communications Act of 1934 states that the FCC is created to regulate communications with the purpose of making available “rapid, efficient, nationwide, and worldwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges, for the purpose of the national defense, and for the purpose of securing a more effective execution of this policy by centralizing authority theretofore granted by law to several agencies and by granting additional authority with respect to interstate and foreign commerce in wire and radio communication.”
If you look at the historical context of the FCC, including the “several agencies” that the FCC replaces, the focus was on coordinating resource allocation. Granting spectrum licenses, granting permits to build infrastructure, etc.
The AT&T monopoly exemplifies the sort of system the FCC was mandated to help create. It was a world class, gold-plated telephone network, available almost everywhere in the US. It wasn’t consumer friendly in many ways (it was expensive and restrictive), but it was certainly “rapid and efficient.”
Maybe I’m being a little hyperbolic, it isn’t the government being overthrown but one branch of it and certainly what the public wanted was intentionally silenced.
As a result of this strict standard, the last successful prosecution for treason in the USA was in 1952...
By definition, most things that they do will be fairly unpopular, and some things they do will be wildly unpopular.
someone who despises Ajit, the telecoms, and has followed FCC shenangins for years