There appears to be a dark money campaign seeking to influence public comment on the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom order.
By US News•
Despite the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the doctrine known as “Net Neutrality,” the fight over control of the internet continues. Chairman Ajit Pai’s courageous leadership has been met with sustained resistance from those who would rather see the world’s most ambitious electronic commercial and communications platform regulated like it were Ma Bell.
Pai has been subjected to continuous abuse. Pickets have been mounted outside his home. The safety of his wife and children have been implicitly threatened. He’s been subjected to a campaign of constant harassment and yet he has persisted because of his firm belief he is in the right. That campaign of harassment is now headed to Capitol Hill, which unsurprisingly has been flooded with letters in anticipation of the FCC’s publication of its order Restoring Internet Freedom which finally appeared Thursday in the Federal Register.
The letters claim the Congressional Review Act would protect net neutrality – generally understood as the principle that internet service providers should not be allowed to block, throttle or censor lawful web traffic on their networks.
For reasons that therefore should be obvious, the Restoring Internet Freedom order isn’t popular among the coalition of Silicon Valley tech giants and far-left pressure groups that lobbied the Obama administration to regulate the internet like it was a public utility. They want the Obama-era regulations restored and have been lobbying, through the same folks that pushed “net neutrality” for so long for Congress to use the Congressional Review Act – a 1996 law intended to allow the legislative branch to overturn excessive federal regulations – to accomplish precisely the opposite of the intent behind the CRA to overturn the repeal of regulations that went too far.
If they succeed, then Obama’s public utility power grab of the internet will become permanently enshrined in U.S. law unless some future Congress acts to change the law. What the members of Congress who are at the receiving end of letters and email communications urging a return to the status quo ante need to realize is that many and perhaps even most of those messages are paid communications backed by interested parties rather than genuine expressions of support from American tech heads.
A source who follows the issue has shared with me a copy of a work order, known as an advertising insertion order, showing this to be true, that the flood of constituent letters hitting congressional offices and servers is substantially bought and paid for.
The one I’ve seen is for $855,500 for one of 10 vendors on the campaign – which suggests there’s at least $8.55 million being spent over just 10 days on letters pushing House members to vote for the CRA. This includes $168,000 per day in banner ads and $687,500 per day in “Guaranteed Letter Signers” for 125,000 letters per day at $5.50 per letter. Between Feb. 2 and Feb. 11, every U.S. House office was sent approximately 2,240 letters.
Who’s behind it all? The order identifies the sponsors as the “Net Neutrality Big 3,” which could be just about anyone. There is, however, a list of usual suspects on which attention has focused.
Sources on Capitol Hill say the three most common form letters in support of overturning the Internet Freedom rule come from three groups: Others suggest the campaign is being underwritten by giant Silicon Valley tech companies who see an economic advantage in locking in the Obama regulations on ISPs that exempt the tech giants and effectively ban ISPs from competing with them.
It’s no surprise Congress is being lobbied so heavily. There’s a lot of money riding on how this all turns out. Are the letters coming to Congress now demanding the CRA move forward coming from legitimate parties and interested voters or are they likely the product of what some would call a “dark money” campaign intended to influence the outcome of important legislation?
If it’s the latter, then it’s phase two in a well-thought-out strategy that began to be instituted some time ago. This FCC public comment process was similarly marred by fake and fraudulent comments – overwhelmingly on the pro-regulation side, including over a million from email addresses ending in Pornhub.com and about half a million from Russia.
As the Senate appears likely to pass the CRA – every Democrat and Maine Republican Susan Collins have indicated they will vote to use it to repeal the Restoring Internet Freedom order – the battleground is in the House. Members of that body should, therefore, be cautious in their evaluation of the messages they’re receiving. They need to remember that in the seemingly never-ending net neutrality wars, the facts take a backseat to the opportunity for political organization and corporate rent-seeking.