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article imageComcast criticised for trying to shut down net neutrality site

By James Walker     May 24, 2017 in Technology
Comcast has threatened legal action against a site run by a group of net neutrality advocates. The site in question was trying to establish who's responsible for a deluge of fake anti-net neutrality comments. Comcast has objected to the use of its name.
The story dates back to April when people began to submit comments to the FCC about its proposal to reverse its formal net neutrality legislation. As people voiced their opinions, it became clear something very strange was going on beneath the surface.
A gigantic botnet armed with thousands of stolen identities has been continually submitting the same passage of identical anti-net neutrality text into the docket. The bot's identity and creator is still a mystery.
Disturbed by the events, net neutrality advocacy group Fight For The Future set up a website, Comcastroturf, in an attempt to find out more about the bot. It also provides a tool to let you check if the bot posted a comment under your name.
Today, Fight For The Future revealed the site has come under attack from different quarters. It has been targeted by lawyers representing Comcast who have sent a cease-and-desist letter regarding its use of the Comcast name. The group has no intention of complying with the request, pointing out Comcast could have directly censored the site if there were no net neutrality rules.
In its response to the letter, Fight For The Future makes the implications of the development explicit. Describing the bot messages to the FCC as "an astroturfing campaign likely funded by the cable lobby," the group suggests Comcast is now targeting the site to shut it down and silence the voices of net neutrality supporters.
"If Ajit Pai’s plan is enacted, there would be nothing preventing Comcast from simply blocking sites like Comcastroturf.com that are critical of their corporate policies," said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight For The Future. "It also makes you wonder what Comcast is so afraid of? Are their lobbying dollars funding the astroturfing effort flooding the FCC with fake comments that we are encouraging Internet users to investigate?"
On its own website, Comcast claims it is "committed to an Open Internet" and believes in "full transparency." The company also insists it supports "sustainable and legally enforceable net neutrality protections." This seems to be at odds with the takedown notice sent to Comcastroturf.
Comcast called Comcastroturf.com an infringement on its "valuable intellectual property" and requested the domain be directly transferred to its control. It claimed the name violates the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, designed to stop companies from sitting on domain names that directly reference the trademarks of competitors.
Fight For The Future said the suggestions are "legally baseless" as the site does not impersonate Comcast and represents protected political speech under the First Amendment. The group added it "would be happy" to discuss the matter with Comcast in court.
That might not turn out to be necessary though. After facing a barrage of criticism, Comcast is reportedly withdrawing its notice. Commenting to The Register, it said the notice was sent by a third-party company employed to "routinely" send out notices to sites that infringe on its brand. The company suggested there's nothing else to know about the matter, adding "we do not plan additional action at this time."
More about Comcast, Net neutrality, Fcc, Ajit Pai, Internet