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Comcast accused of siccing lawyers on net neutrality foe

Activists say they got cease and desist threat for pointing out astroturfing

By Shaun Nichols, 23 May 2017

An activist group says it was threatened by Comcast lawyers after it pointed out the cable giant's efforts to astroturf the FCC with fake comments on net neutrality.

Fight for the Future, a self-described digital rights group opposed to the FCC's planned net neutrality overhaul, says the US cable giant's lawyers have been targeting its Comcastroturf site.

The site, which looks to catalog what it says are phony "astroturfing" comments made to the FCC on Comcast's behalf, has been hit with "cease and desist" notices from the telco's lawyers alleging intellectual property violations.

A copy of the notice argues that "Comcastroturf" as a term is too similar to Comcast's own domain and company name, and therefore is an intellectual property violation. Whether that claim would hold up in court is up for speculation, but Comcast says in the notice it would drop the matter if it were given control of the domain.

Comcast, for its part, has now said it will be backing off.

"Like most major brand owners, Comcast protects our company and brand names from being used improperly on the Internet by third parties. We use an established outside vendor to monitor for websites that use our name and brands without authorization, and the vendor routinely sends out notices to those sites. That is what happened here," a spokesperson told The Register.

"This particular site also raised other legal issues supporting further investigation (for example, the site appears to collect personal information and has no posted privacy policy). After reviewing the site further, we do not plan additional action at this time."

Meanwhile, Fight for the Future says Comcast is just trying to silence a site dedicated to exposing what it says are questionable tactics by the cable giant to create the illusion of public support for the FCC's plans.

"Companies like Comcast have a long history of funding shady astroturfing operations like the one we are trying to expose with Comcastroturf.com, and also a long history of engaging in censorship," argues Evan Greer, Fight for the Future's campaign director.

Greer goes on to suggest that the cease and desist order is reflective of Comcast's true intent for handling internet access for its customers once the FCC's new rules go into effect.

"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," she writes.

"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?" ®

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