When the second round of the US Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) call for comments on net neutrality ended last September, something seemed a little off.
The 1.6-million submissions fell about a million short of the first round, but that wasn't the weird part. This time, instead of the vast majority of comments arguing for net neutrality, 60 per cent were fighting against it. The reason for this marked shift? A "shadowy" campaign powered by funds and form letters of the Koch Brothers – owners of the second-largest privately owned company in the whole of the US.
According to the Sunlight Foundation, American Commitment (the group heading up the conservative form letter campaign) has both received money from and given money to a number of groups associated with the billionaire benefactors to conservatives everywhere, brothers David and Charles Koch.
According to Sunlight's recent report on the FCC's second round comments:
We attribute [the anti-net neutrality] shift almost entirely to the form-letter initiatives of a single organization, American Commitment, who are single-handedly responsible for 56.5% of the comments in this round.
In large part because of this campaign, the percentage of comments submitted that we believe to have been form letter submissions was significantly higher for this round than the last one, at 88%.
As for the non-form letter submissions, only one per cent stood opposed to net neutrality, a distribution almost identical to what it was during the first round. For their part, American Commitment could not be more delighted with the Sunlight Foundation's findings, with president Phil Kerpen saying in a press release:
We're pleased that the Sunlight Foundation is finally confirming that American Commitment and Americans opposed to regulation of the Internet won the FCC comment period. Better late than never.
Unfortunately for American Commitment, it looks like its 800,000-plus comments were submitted more out of convenience and a desire to slam the left than anything else. According to a report from Motherboard back in September:
Despite a smattering of mentions in the tech press, Kerpen's movement has not riled up anyone on the right enough to warrant a story in any of the publications that would normally be very happy to trumpet a conservative win over liberal activists. In the days after Kerpen's "victory" email, none of The Daily Caller, Washington Free Beacon, Red State, The Washington Times, Breitbart, The Blaze, or Hot Air had covered the conservative anti-net neutrality movement.
As it just so happens, Kerpen is also the head of the Internet Freedom Coalition which has"a desire to keep the Internet free from government interference" and which proudly counts Americans for Prosperity (a group founded with the help of none other than Koch Industries) as one of its more active members. It gets pretty convoluted, but the Sunlight Foundation untied the various Koch-backed groups behind American Commitment, and rest assured, the ties run deep.
But hey, at least there was a place to customise the form letter with one of several variations of anti-net neutrality angst. Among the various "variant comment" options were:
The Internet is not broken, and does not need to be fixed. Left-wing extremists have been crying wolf for the past decade about the harm to the Internet if the Federal government didn't regulate it. Not only were they wrong, but the Internet has exploded with innovation. Do not regulate the Internet.
Before our government can handcuff a citizen, it must have some reasonable evidence that they have done something wrong. Before the FCC places regulatory handcuffs on Internet providers, shouldn't the government present evidence that they have actually done something wrong?
And my personal favourite:
The ideological leader of the angry liberals calling for you to reduce the Internet to a public utility is Robert McChesney, the avowed Marxist founder of the socialist group Free Press.
In other words, when and if the FCC actually goes through the comments, that significant majority of anti-net neutrality sentiments will have come from one of several conservative, Koch-backed forms. It's just like choose-your-own-adventure, manufactured outrage edition. [The Sunlight Foundation via ARS Technica]