Despite an initial threat to close a political opponent’s website, Comcast Corp. now says it was mistaken and will not take legal action against the pro-internet neutrality group Fight for the Future.
But stay tuned. The dust-up is typical of many fights to come as the rules of the internet are getting rewritten by the Trump administration.
The advocacy group claims on the new website, comcastroturf.com, that potentially hundreds of thousands of “fake” comments flooded the Federal Communications Commission, creating a false impression of broad public support for dismantling Obama-era internet regulations.
“Someone has submitted nearly half a million anti-net neutrality comments to the FCC, many of which appear to be completely fake — using stolen names and addresses,” the site says. “This needs to be investigated and stopped now.”
It also asks people to put their name into a search engine to see whether they submitted comments to the FCC without their knowledge. “We think it’s a big deal,” Evan Greer, a Fight for the Future official, said Thursday. “It’s clouding the public record.”
The comments are a big deal because the backers of current regulations and those who want them wiped away are expected to cite those emails to the FCC as proxies for public opinion.
Comcast initially sent a “cease and desist order” to Fight for the Future through one of its vendors, LookingGlass Cyber Solutions Inc., saying that the comcastroturf site could violate the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, which outlaws the use of website domain names that confuse consumers.
Comcast said on Thursday that it was protecting its reputation and was confused about the purpose of comcastroturf, which was officially registered as a domain name for a website on May 14. Fight for the Future did not post content related to net neutrality on the site until the evening of May 17. Earlier that day, LookingGlass Cyber Solutions sent the cease-and-desist letter.
Comcast and other big telecom companies seek the repeal of the Obama-era internet regulations, or “net neutrality” protections, through the new head of the FCC, Ajit Pai.
One of those net neutrality protections bans Comcast from blocking access to websites.
Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said Thursday: “Comcast supports strong, legally enforceable net neutrality rules and does not and will not block websites or content.”
She added that “like most major brand owners, Comcast protects our company and brand names from being used improperly on the internet by third parties. We use an established outside vendor to monitor for websites that use our name and brands without authorization, and the vendor routinely sends out notices to those sites. That is what happened here.”
Fitzmaurice said that “after reviewing the site further, we do not plan additional action at this time.”