FCC head Ajit Pai admits Russians interfered in net neutrality process
A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit has exposed FCC infighting and Russian interference the agency had previously denied.
Pai made the admission in response to a lawsuit filed by the New York Times, which is investigating why the FCC's public comment site was spammed with millions of apparently fake comments, some of which were made with stolen identities, including dead people and celebrities.
In the suit, the Times is requesting IP addresses and server logs that would "shed light to the extent to which Russian nationals and agents of the Russian government have interfered with the agency notice-and-comment process about a topic of extensive public interest."
The newspaper had originally made a Freedom of Information Act request for the records, which the FCC denied. Both Pai and FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel released memos about the denial on Monday.
Rosenworcel, who was in favor of granting the FOIA request, slammed the FCC for voting it down and laid out the extent of Russian interference: "As many as nine and a half million people had their identities stolen and used to file fake comments, which is a crime under both federal and state laws," she wrote. "Nearly eight million comments were filed from email domains associated with FakeMailGenerator.com. On top of this, roughly half a million comments were filed from Russian email addresses. Something here is rotten—and it’s time for the FCC to come clean."
In his memo, Pai said it was a "fact" that comments were submitted using Russian email addresses. He had previously denied it, reports Gizmodo.
Pai argued that many of the comments from Russian email addresses were supportive of net neutrality and said the Times' FOIA request was denied to prevent identity theft.
Soon after taking office in January 2017, Pai, a Trump appointee, announced his intention to repeal net neutrality, an Obama-era rule that prevented internet-service providers for charging more for access to certain types of content.
Federal rules required a public comment period. Of the 23 million comments left on the FCC's site, 94 percent were auto-generated, a Pew Research Center study determined. Of the 6 percent of comments that contained a unique message, nearly 100 percent were in favor of keeping net neutrality.