More than 1.6 million outraged letters denouncing net neutrality flooded Congress in the past week. It seemed the American people were rising up against that latest scourge perpetuated by the president -- a.k.a. Obamanet.
The outcry would soon raise suspicions, however. Lawmakers who responded to the letters discovered that many were fake. Someone appeared to be running a massive fraud, using the names of real constituents to leave the impression there was massive outrage over net neutrality.
In late February, the Federal Communications Commission passed new rules defining the internet as a public utility. It allowed the agency to stop internet providers from charging excess fees to companies who wanted their web services to run faster, while slowing traffic for those unwilling to pay more.
The idea was to keep everyone on even footing, so mom-and-pops could still compete with goliaths like Amazon and Netflix.
Major internet providers like Comcast, its Republican allies, and people who generally think regulation is the devil's work were not pleased. Chief among them is a conservative anti-regulation group called American Commitment, which opposes everything from pollution taxes to universal healthcare.
American Commitment president Phil Kerpen claimed credit for rounding up people to complain about net neutrality. But many of the fake letters seemed to parrot American Commitment's language, suggesting the group was behind the fraud.
Kerpen denied stealing the identities of people who never signed up for the effort.
Instead, he blames other groups for plagiarizing the language of his campaign and misusing ordinary folks' email addresses.
"We verified our data through postal address verification and follow-up phone calls," Kerpen says. "We stand by our campaign, and Congress should work to stop President Obama's plan to regulate the internet at the request of these constituents."
Unfortunately, Congress isn't particularly moved by fake outrage. Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, arguably Congress's biggest proponent for net neutrality, was recently bombarded with anti-neutrality messages. A spokesman said none of those letters were sent from valid Minnesota addresses.
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