New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says that his office is investigating a scheme to corrupt the Federal Communications Commission's online public-comment process on net neutrality via the use of thousands of false identities — but the FCC is not cooperating.
In a statement posted on Medium Tuesday, Schneiderman said the investigation has been going on since May when his office noticed "enormous numbers of fake comments" about the FCC's proposal to abolish net neutrality. "In doing so, the perpetrator or perpetrators attacked what is supposed to be an open public process by attempting to drown out and negate the views of the real people, businesses, and others who honestly commented on this important issue," he said, noting that many misused real names and addresses. "That’s akin to identity theft, and it happened on a massive scale."
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In June, Schneiderman's office contacted the FCC for records related to the public comment system to determine who was behind the fraud, then followed up nine times over five months. "Yet we have received no substantive response to our investigative requests," he said. "None."
Trump's pick to head the FCC, Ajit Pai, has been outspoken in his plans to overturn net neutrality, an Obama-era initiative that regulates the internet as a public utility, preventing internet-service providers for charging more for access to certain kinds of content or creating "fast lanes" to content by companies who pay. Net neutrality proponents say it protects consumers and small businesses from corporate control. Pai opened a public-comment period earlier this year, and this week scheduled a vote for Dec. 12.
A recent study found that nearly 100 percent of unique, non-automated comments left on the FCC public-comment site were opposed to abolishing net neutrality.
"This investigation isn’t about the substantive issues concerning net neutrality," said Schneiderman, who noted that he is in favor of preserving it. "It’s about the right to control one’s own identity and prevent the corruption of a process designed to solicit the opinion of real people and institutions."
"We all have a powerful reason to hold accountable those who would steal Americans’ identities and assault the public’s right to be heard in government rulemaking," he continued. "If law enforcement can’t investigate and (where appropriate) prosecute when it happens on this scale, the door is open for it to happen again and again."