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NLPC's False Report Diverts Attention from the Concerns of Real Net Neutrality Supporters

We learned this Wednesday of a report [PDF] by the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) that claimed EFF submitted over 100,000 fake comments to the FCC's net neutrality docket, using fake names, email addresses, and physical addresses. Since we’ve started to get questions about NLPC’s report, we wanted to set the record straight.

NLPC’s report is false. Not one name, email address, or email domain cited in the report matches to any of the comments that came through EFF's comment tool.

NLPC’s report is false. Not one name, email address, or email domain cited in the report matches to any of the comments that came through EFF's comment tool.

Unfortunately, NLPC didn’t reach out to us before publishing its report. If they had, we would have been able to share our evidence with them and they could have avoided publishing a flawed report.

Before we explain how we know that NLPC’s accusations are false, we want to say a few words about our DearFCC tool. The FCC proposal to toss net neutrality guidelines would open the door to ISPs creating fast lanes for some content and slow lanes for others. It would leave consumers at the mercy of throttling and rob them of the meaningful access guarantees and privacy protections we fought for and won two years ago. DearFCC was created to provide consumers like you a tool for making your voices heard. Your Internet rights are at stake, and you deserve to be heard. We take very seriously claims of fake comments, and our analysis shows that none of the supposedly fake comments in the NLPC report were submitted through DearFCC.

So how do we know NLPC’s report is wrong? For one thing, we counted the number of comments people have submitted to the FCC through our system. That number is nowhere near the 100,000 comments NLPC said we filed.

Further, just before the sunshine period—when the FCC stopped accepting comments—we started storing copies of comments submitted through our system, because we weren’t sure how the FCC would treat comments submitted during that period. This week, we searched through all of the stored comments for the names and email address domains listed in NLPC’s report, and didn’t find a single match.

Finally, the text that NLPC found in the 100,000 comments in question isn’t identical to the text our system uses. It’s close, but there’s a subtle difference.

One of the sentences our comment system generates is: 

 “As an Internet user, I’m asking the FCC to protect the net neutrality protections currently in place.”

The language in NLPC’s report is:

As an Internet user, I'm asking the FCC to protect the net neutrality protections currently in place.

 Notice the difference?

It’s subtle, but in the word “I’m” in EFF’s text, the apostrophe is actually a “right single quotation mark.” In the text from the 100,000 comments mentioned in NLPC’s report, the apostrophe is a neutral “typewriter apostrophe.” For more information on the difference, see this Wikipedia article.

Why does the difference matter? Because it shows that whoever submitted the 100,000 identical comments the NLPC report mentions copied and pasted the text to make the comments look like they came through EFF’s DearFCC.org site, when they did not. If NLPC had looked closely at the comments they would have noticed the difference, and realized that the comments weren’t generated by EFF’s website. Apparently, they did not.

Fake Comments Shouldn’t Silence Real Voices

Throughout the FCC’s comment process, we’ve seen malicious actors attempt to discredit the process by generating obviously fake comments. Their hope is that they can drown out the voices of the overwhelming majority of Americans who support net neutrality

We can’t let that happen.

As we said last month, “Digital democracy is not easy. The FCC can’t just count comments for and against net neutrality as though they were ballots in a ballot box. But neither can Chairman Pai ignore the opinions of Internet users in the U.S., the majority of whom want to [continue] being protected against data discrimination by ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.” If the FCC and opponents of net neutrality respond to attacks on the “public comment system not by defending the system, but by discounting and ignoring public opinion expressed through that system, then the agency is answerable to no one.”

Help us hold the FCC accountable. Submit your comments to the FCC at https://www.dearfcc.org, and we’ll work as hard as we can to make sure the FCC listens. And you can be sure that we won’t let anyone drown out your voice.

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