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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, Buzzfeed News revealed that two little-known data firms were working on behalf of industry front group Broadband for America (BFA) to enter millions of fraudulent comments into the 2017 Federal Communications Commission proceeding that led to the repeal of Net Neutrality protections.

BFA is one of the most outspoken opponents of the Obama-era Net Neutrality safeguards. The bulk of BFA’s funding comes from large phone and cable companies and their trade groups, including AT&T, Comcast, the Internet & Television Association (formerly NCTA) and USTelecom.

According to the report, data firms working on BFA’s behalf fraudulently misappropriated names and personal information from more than 1.5 million individuals to create the false appearance of popular support for Trump FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s effort to repeal the 2015 rules.

In 2018, attorneys general from New York, the District of Columbia and other jurisdictions, along with the Department of Justice, subpoenaed 14 organizations, including Free Press and other Net Neutrality advocates as well as anti-Net Neutrality groups, to determine who was behind the submission of the fraudulent comments in the FCC docket. Free Press has fully cooperated in this investigation and encouraged officials to get to the truth about such efforts to skew the public record on Net Neutrality.

Free Press Senior Director of Strategy and Communications Timothy Karr made the following statement:

“We had long suspected the broadband industry was behind the illegal effort to fake public opposition to Net Neutrality. Thanks to this invaluable investigative reporting, we can see the money trail that reportedly leads from the largest cable and phone companies through their front group Broadband for America and into the hands of those paid to defraud the public.

“In reality, virtually no one supports the Trump FCC ruling that struck down real open-internet protections: More than 85 percent of voters — including 82 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats — support the rules that Chairman Pai repealed. Independent analysts have found that more than 9 out of 10 unique comments in the FCC proceeding supported Net Neutrality.

“Facing overwhelming public opposition to Pai’s plan to destroy the open-internet rules, the broadband industry faked support for their position, and, in so doing, undermined a democratic process that was designed for genuine public input into agency rulemaking.

“This is not only outrageous, it’s exactly the kind of violation that federal and state authorities have been investigating. The proper authorities must take the next step and hold those involved to account. And Congress must demand answers from Chairman Pai on what he’s doing to prevent fraud and evaluate real public input.”

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