The Office of the New York Attorney General said in a new report that a campaign funded by the broadband industry submitted millions of fake comments supporting the 2017 repeal of net neutrality.
The Federal Communications Commission’s contentious 2017 repeal undid Obama-era rules that barred internet service providers from slowing or blocking websites and apps or charging companies more for faster speeds to consumers. The industry had sued to stop these rules during the Obama administration but lost.
The proceeding generated a record-breaking number of comments — more than 22 million — and nearly 18 million were fake, the attorney general’s office found. It has long been known that the tally included fake comments.
One 19-year-old in California submitted more than 7.7 million pro-net neutrality comments. The attorney general’s office did not identify the origins of another “distinct group” of more than 1.6 million pro-net neutrality comments, many of which used mailing addresses outside the U.S.
A broadband industry group, called Broadband for America, spent $4.2 million generating more than 8.5 million of the fake FCC comments. Half a million fake letters were also sent to Congress.
The goal of the broadband industry campaign, according to internal documents the attorney general’s office received, was to make it seem like there was “widespread grassroots support” for the repeal of net neutrality that could give the FCC chairman at the time, Ajit Pai, “volume and intellectual cover” for the repeal.
The agency is supposed to use the comments it receives, from industry and public-industry groups and the public, to shape how it makes its rules.
The FCC did not immediately answer how or if it has changed its commenting process, but the acting chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, said in a prepared statement that “widespread problems with the record” of the 2017 proceedings “was troubling at the time” and the agency has to learn and improve the commenting process.
The fake comments had high-profile victims. In 2018, two senators, Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said their identities were stolen to file fake comments for the net neutrality proceeding. “We were among those whose identities were misused to express viewpoints we do not hold,” they wrote to the FCC’s then-chairman, Pai, asking him to investigate the fake comments.
Many expect the FCC to try to reinstate net neutrality rules once a third Democratic commissioner is appointed. The agency is currently split half Democrat and Republican, which makes undoing the repeal unlikely.
Broadband for America’s website says its members include AT&T and Comcast as well as major trade groups for the wireless, cable and telecom industries.
The campaign hired companies known as lead generators which created the fake comments, but that the attorney general’s office had not found evidence that the broadband companies had “direct knowledge of fraud” and thus they had not violated New York law, according to the report.
Still, the report criticized the broadband industry group’s behavior as “troubling,” saying the campaign organizers ignored red flags and hid the broadband industry’s involvement.
The lead generators copied names and addresses they had already collected and said those people had agreed to join the campaign against net neutrality, the report said. One company copied information that had been stolen in a data breach and posted online.
The attorney general, Letitia James, also announced agreements with three of the companies that were responsible for millions of the fake comments, Fluent Inc., Opt-Intelligence Inc. and React2Media Inc., that require them to change practices in future advocacy campaigns and pay $4.4 million in fines. The companies did not reply to requests for comment.
The attorney general’s office and other law enforcement agencies are still investigating “other responsible parties,” according to the report.
AT&T, Comcast and industry trade groups NCTA and USTelecom did not respond to questions.
By TALI ARBEL AP Technology Writer.
Patrick Drahi’s Altice acquires 12.1% stake in Britain’s BT
France’s second largest telco, Altice, announced on Thursday the acquisition of a 12.1 percent stake in the UK’s BT Group for a valuation of $3.1 billion, as it looks to double down on its ambition of building a nationwide fiber broadband network.
Altice – which is owned by telecoms tycoon Patrick Drahi – operates in the U.S., France, Portugal, and Israel delivering fiber and mobile networks to more than 40 million users.
Altice UK is owned by Next Alt, Drahi’s private holding, which also controls SFR, the second largest telecoms operator in France behind Orange.
However, Altice UK, a company set up specifically for the acquisition, had rushed to calm critics by publicly informing “the BT board that it does not intend to make a takeover offer for BT.”
The company even highlighted that it holds the board and management team at BT “in high regard and is supportive of their strategy.”
In parallel, BT echoed Altice’s intentions as they released a statement categorizing the 12.1 percent acquisition as “support for our management and strategy.”
“We welcome all investors who recognize the long-term value of our business and the important role it plays in the UK,” BT Group’s statement read.
While others consider that BT, which is the UK’s largest broadband and mobile operator, is championing itself as a national hero by revamping the country’s networks which are currently trailing behind other EU countries such as Spain.
According to previous announcements, the telco is planning to extend its fiber broadband to 25 million homes and businesses by 2026 – a case in point of why the acquisition was approved.
This was doubled down by Drahi who released a statement noting that the investment “has a compelling opportunity to deliver one of the UK Government’s most important policies, namely the substantial expansion of access to a full-fiber, gigabit-capable broadband network throughout the UK.”
“Our approach is to combine high levels of technical expertise, resilience and operating efficiency with a strong focus on innovation and customer service. Altice has brought an entrepreneurial culture, energy and effectiveness to building its networks and operations,” the telecoms tycoon added.
In parallel, it is worth mentioning that this acquisition places Altice as the largest BT shareholder, steaming ahead of Deutsche Telekom’s 12.06 percent stake, according to numbers by Refinitiv.
BT triples broadband speeds for 8,500 micro-businesses
BT is tripling broadband speeds for 5,900 micro-businesses in Manchester and 8,500 micro-businesses in Birmingham to promote the launch of its new business unit dedicated to small firms and start-ups.
The new unit is launching in Birmingham by offering discounted full fiber packages for thousands of micro businesses – which typically have a handful of employees.
BT’s recent survey found that nearly a third of Birmingham small businesses (28 per cent) planned to move more of their operations online following lockdown restrictions easing; while 67 per cent would be more likely to adopt new technologies if they knew the technology industry provided training or support.
The survey also found that more than 70 per cent of small firms in Birmingham are confident in the success of their business as the lockdown restrictions lift. And with more than 18,000 businesses set up in Birmingham during 2020, the rise of digital shopkeepers and freelancers mean that an increasing number are running their business from home.
BT’s new online tools are designed to remove some of the biggest barriers which are preventing the UK’s smallest companies from using digital advertising to boost their online presence and reach new customers. The new service is currently being trialed with customers and BT will share more details over the coming weeks.
Working with its infrastructure partner Openreach, BT’s Enterprise business will focus on bringing full fiber to businesses across Birmingham, including 8,500 micro businesses initially. These businesses will be able to access BT’s fastest full fiber speeds yet – up to 900Mbps – a tripling of the speeds previously available.
Sarah Walker, BT Enterprise business director for the Midlands, said: “By setting up this new unit we’re investing in the future of Birmingham’s smallest firms and start-ups which are the lifeblood of the local economy. I’m really proud that we’re creating this new unit at a time when their success has never been more important in securing the city’s future as it rebuilds after the toughest economic crisis in a generation.
“In addition, we’re tripling the speed of full fiber broadband for businesses in Birmingham, with nearly 8,500 of the city’s smallest firms now able to access speeds of up to 900Mbps through BT. The availability of our fastest business broadband speeds yet will grow over time as Openreach continues to expand its full fiber footprint across the city,” Walker said.
Together with the launch of the UK’s first ‘unbreakable’ Wi-Fi for micro-businesses – delivering guaranteed coverage across the workplace, full fiber speeds and free tech expert support – the new unit will help the UK’s smallest firms and start-ups to rebuild and get set for growth.
Finland, Japan team up to develop 6G research
As this article is being written, a new 5G connection is being setup somewhere around the world as operator after operator are swiftly working to either roll it out or refine it.
But while the fifth generation of mobile networks has become the goal for many countries across the world, major telecom players around the world have started planning ahead for 6G.
Industry groups from both Japan and Finland announced on Tuesday a joint research to develop the sixth generation of mobile networks, in a bid to compete with Chinese companies who have already started forging 6G standards.
Both nations will cooperate through the Finnish 6G Flagship research program coordinated by the University of Oulu and the Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium of the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was published in Tokyo in connection with the Global Digital Summit organized by The Nikkei, a Japanese financial media, and the Japanese Ministry of the Interior and Communications.
6G Flagship and the Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium are now launching research and development collaboration on 6G technology. “The goal is to contribute significantly to the global standardization and regulatory development of 6G technology,” University of Oulu said in a statement.
“Japan is a major global player in the development of wireless mobile technologies, and it is in Finland’s interest to expand the cooperation to themes where mutual competitive advantage can be achieved for 6G development. The importance of the collaboration is underlined by Japan’s decision earlier this spring to invest $2 billion in the development of 6G technologies,” the statement added.
This cooperation comes following $4.5 billion commitment by both Japan and the U.S. toward the advancement of next-generation communications technology, dated back in April. Extending the cooperation to “third-countries” to promote secure connectivity is seen helping in the competition with China to set global standards.
In addition to the University of Tokyo and the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, the key member organizations of the Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium in Japan includes several Japanese telecommunications companies, operators, and the conglomerate SoftBank.
6G Flagship is a research, development and innovation program funded by the Academy of Finland and the University of Oulu for 2018−2026.
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