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A Comcast vendor sent a cease-and-desist letter to the operator of “Comcastroturf.com,” a website that helps people find out if their names were used by bots that have flooded the Federal Communications Commission with anti-net neutrality comments.
Fight for the Future, the advocacy group that operates the site, issued a press release accusing Comcast of censorship and posted an image of the letter that accuses the group of trademark infringement. The letter was sent by LookingGlass Cyber Security Center on behalf of its client, Comcast, and demands that Fight for the Future “take all steps necessary to see that the Domain Name [Comcastroturf.com] is assigned to Comcast.”court precedent holds that “sites critical of a company’s practices could not be considered trademark infringement.” The Comcastroturf website describes how spammers have submitted anti-net neutrality comments to the FCC using names and addresses taken from data breaches and suggests that Comcast might be behind the effort.
“If companies like Comcast are funding this type of illegal activity, their customers and the general public deserve to know about it,” the website says. “If they’re not funding it, they should condemn these fake comments and tell the FCC to disregard them.”
Comcastroturf also lets people search the FCC’s net neutrality docket for their own names to help them determine whether their names have been used without their knowledge.
Comcast criticizes site but won’t take further action
When contacted by Ars, Comcast did not apologize for the letter and criticized the Comcastroturf website. But the company has decided not to pursue the claim any further. Comcast said:
(UPDATE: After this article published, Comcast contacted us again with some additional details. Comcastroturf.com was registered on May 14, 2017, and Comcast’s vendor began sending cease-and-desist notices on May 17, before the site had any content on it, Comcast said.)
Comcast’s statement also said that, while the company opposes the use of the FCC’s Title II authority to impose net neutrality rules, “Comcast supports strong, legally enforceable net neutrality rules and does not and will not block websites or content. Title II does not equal net neutrality.”
Like other net neutrality advocates, Greer disagrees and told Ars:
Regarding Comcast’s statement, they are just repeating their misleading talking point claiming that they support net neutrality but oppose Title II. The courts have been clear that Title II is the legally sound way to enforce net neutrality protections, and these protections are necessary because of the long history of ISPs abusing their power. Comcast wants the power to be able to charge sites fees in order to reach an audience—that’s why they’re trying to get rid of Title II. They can claim otherwise all they want, but the public isn’t going to be fooled.
As we’ve written, the FCC’s first attempt at imposing net neutrality rules was overturned by a federal appeals court. The FCC’s net neutrality rules were finally upheld in court only after the commission reclassified ISPs as common carriers under Title II. But now that the FCC majority has changed from Democrats to Republicans, the commission has begun the process of overturning the Title II classification. This could eliminate the current rules that prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.
The FCC is accepting comments on the docket until August 16 and will make a final decision sometime after that.