New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, and 28 senators want the FCC to delay its upcoming net neutrality vote, giving investigators more time to look into a spate of fake public comments submitted under real peoples’ names. They also called on the FCC to seriously investigate the source of the comments, and to cooperate with state- or federal-level probes.
The FCC is set to repeal net neutrality in a vote on December 14th, but its comment period — which is meant to give the public a voice in the process — has been beset with problems. Among other things, Schneiderman cited a Broadband for America-funded study that found nearly 8 million comments had been submitted using temporary or disposable email addresses, and nearly 10 million comments involved duplicate email and home addresses.
Schneiderman alleged that over 1 million total Americans have had their identities used to submit fake comments, and at least 50,000 New Yorkers have — including his own office’s assistant press secretary, Rachel Shippee. His office recently posted a page where visitors can flag fake comments, and he said it’s gotten around 3,000 responses from around the country so far. (His investigation, centered on identity theft allegations, will be limited to New York.)
The Verge and other outlets have previously reported on the spam comments, but the parties behind them remain unknown. Schneiderman suggested that the incident was particularly important “in an era when foreign governments, and those seeking an unfair advantage here at home, have tried to undermine our democratic institutions.” Rosenworcel also referenced “nearly half a million” comments sent by Russian email addresses. But Schneiderman said that “unless we get the information from the FCC, it's anecdotal evidence.”
For now, Schneiderman called the FCC’s entire comment process “deeply corrupted,” and asked federal investigators to look into the incident alongside his own probe. His concern was echoed by Rosenworcel, who also brought up other issues with the process, like an alleged denial of service attack that crashed the system, and 50,000 comments that were submitted but are apparently missing from the public record. “When you add all that up, what you have is a record that's hard to trust,” she said. “It is incumbent on the FCC and all of my colleagues to stand back, figure out what's happening with this record before us, and get to the bottom of these stolen identities.”
A group of senators, led by Maggie Hassan (D-NH), said the same thing in a letter sent to FCC chairman Ajit Pai. “We are requesting that you delay your planned vote on this item until you can conduct a thorough review of the state of the record and provide Congress with greater assurance of its accuracy and completeness,” they wrote.
Schneiderman accused the FCC of “stonewalling” on the investigation, although he said that the FCC inspector general had recently offered to help. An FCC spokesperson previously dismissed the complaints as “nothing more than a transparent attempt by a partisan supporter of the Obama Administration's heavy-handed internet regulations to gain publicity for himself.” The agency did not immediately reply to an email requesting comment.