NY Attorney General: Stolen Identities, Fake Comments Have ‘Corrupted’ FCC’s Net Neutrality Proceeding

Eric Schneiderman
Mary Altaffer/AP/REX/Shutterstock

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman took aim at the integrity of the FCC’s rule-making proceeding to roll back many of its current net neutrality rules, pointing to evidence that many of the public comments filed come from stolen identities or are fake.

He also called on the FCC to delay a planned Dec. 14 vote on chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to roll back many of the existing rules, which currently ban internet providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or from selling “fast lanes” so content providers can reach consumers more quickly.

“They just have to stop this vote,” Schneiderman said at a press conference. “They cannot conduct a legitimate vote if you have a record that is in shambles.”

He said that his office’s own review of the public filings showed that about 1 million comments may have used names that were in fact stolen identities.

Schneiderman, who called the process “deeply corrupted,” was joined by commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who opposes Pai’s proposal.

She urged the FCC to halt the vote “until we can get to the bottom of what happened to those stolen identities and the quality of our public record.” Rosenworcel also cited reports that almost a half of a million comments came from Russian email addresses.

The FCC received almost 23 million comments since last spring, when Pai first made it clear that he would review the FCC’s framework for its net neutrality rules.

But questions were raised soon after that about the source and quality of the comments being submitted. Broadband for America, which has advocated for rolling back regulations, financed a study that showed that almost 8 million comments appeared to be generated by “temporary” and “disposable” email domains linked to fakeemailgenerator.com. Virtually all opposed repealing the regulatory underpinning for the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

Schneiderman said that his call for a halt to the vote was “not a dispute on the merits” of whether the rules should be repealed or kept in place, as there have been doubts about the authenticity of comments coming from both sides of the debate. But Schneiderman said that they approached Pai’s staff nine times to obtain records, yet it was only on Monday morning that the FCC’s office of inspector general offered to assist.

Schneiderman said his office is seeking FCC logs to show the origin of the comments.

A spokesperson for the FCC said,  “At today’s press conference, they didn’t identify a single comment relied upon in the draft order as being questionable. This is an attempt by people who want to keep the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed Internet regulations to delay the vote because they realize that their effort to defeat the plan to restore internet freedom has stalled.”

When Pai made his proposal public last month, an FCC official said that the vast majority of the comments were from form letters, and that 7.5 million of the responses were exactly the same and came from 45,000 unique names and addresses.