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Congress Pressures FCC Boss Over His Total Failure To Police Net Neutrality Comment Fraud

By now it's pretty apparent that the FCC doesn't much want to talk about who was behind the numerous bogus comments that flooded the agency's net neutrality repeal proceeding. When I asked the FCC for help after someone lifted my identity to support repealing the rules, the FCC responded with the policy equivalent of a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Similarly, when New York Attorney General Eric Shneiderman approached the FCC looking for help identifying the culprit (9 requests over 5 months, he said in an open letter), the FCC blocked the investigation.

Most analysts believe the effort was a ham-fisted attempt to erode trust in the public comment proceeding in order to downplay massive public opposition to the FCC's plan (a tactic that has mysteriously plagued other government proceedings over the last year). The FCC could pretty quickly clear this all up by providing access to server logs and API key usage details to law enforcement. Its consistent refusal to do so quickly dismantles agency boss Ajit Pai's continued, breathless claims that he's a massive fan of transparency and would run a more transparent operation than his predecessor.

This week, members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to Pai again asking him to explain (pdf) why the FCC ignored the public and sat on its hands as millions of bogus comments (some of them from dead people) piled up. Included in the questions were inquiries regarding how the FCC (which says it ignored comments "devoid of substance") determined what public comments were worth paying attention to, if any:

"How were comments determined to be “devoid of substance”? How were others determined to “bear substantively” on the issue? What were the training methods and guidelines for staff making these determinations? How many staff hours were dedicated to this?"

Pai was also asked why he doesn't think helping law enforcement get to the bottom of the scandal is a good idea:

"Why has the FCC failed to cooperate with the NY attorney general’s investigation into potential identity theft?"

And why didn't the agency implement any kind of screening process to help ferret out bulk, bogus comments (many of which were submitted by a bot in purely alphabetical order):

"Why did the FCC choose to not implement any kind of identity verification in its comment platform? The FCC says it excluded comments that used fake names, but how was it determined which these were? And if it is known which comments used fake names, why were these comments not removed from the docket?

Of course like previous inquiries, Pai isn't likely to respond -- at least not with any answers that provide real meaning. Since ISPs have been obnoxiously successful falsely framing net neutrality as a partisan issue, and the letter sent to Pai consists largely of Democrats, it will be relatively easy to dismiss the inquiry as little more than partisan gamesmanship. You'd just have to ignore the fact that an open, healthy internet free of domination by telecom monopolies benefits everyone, or the fact that polls routinely show net neutrality has broad, bipartisan support.

It's not hard for the FCC to identify who was behind the effort, and given the attack only benefits either the telecom industry or the folks in the Trump administration pushing the repeal, the short list of culprits is arguably tiny. But while Pai apparently has zero interest in helping find out who was behind the disinformation campaign, it's likely additional details will emerge courtesy of the countless lawsuits currently heading the FCC's general direction.

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