EFF, Others Think It Would Be Cool If The FCC Stopped Hiding 47,000 Net Neutrality Complaints

We've noted repeatedly that the Trump FCC has been engaged in some dubious-if-not-downright-comical behavior to try and justify their plan to kill popular net neutrality protections. These efforts have ranged from ignoring bot-driven fraudulent abuse of the agency's comment system to allegedly making up a DDos attack to try and downplay the "John Oliver" effect in the media, after Oliver highlighted the myopia of the FCC's efforts on his HBO program. The goal appears singular: sow doubt about the validity of the 20 million + comments made to the FCC, mostly in opposition to its plan.

FCC boss Ajit Pai has long insisted that net neutrality isn't a real problem, nor is the lack of broadband competition that creates such market dysfunction in the first place. As such, the agency under his leadership has also been fighting against FOIA requests to release the 47,000 net neutrality complaints filed with the agency since 2015. After all, they might show that net neutrality is a real problem, undermining Pai's claim that consumer protections on this front aren't necessary.

Hoping to dial up pressure on the agency, 16 consumer groups and organizations (including the EFF and the ACLU) penned a letter to the FCC this week urging them to make the complaints public. The core of their argument -- if the FCC is going to claim net neutrality protections and agency oversight of ISPs is largely unnecessary, it might be useful to discuss what the public has to say about things:

Over 47,000 consumer complaints have been submitted against ISPs since June 2015, and carriers provided approximately 18,000 responses to those complaints, and there are 1,500 emails documenting interactions between the ombudsperson and Internet users. These numbers alone should give the Commission pause. However, only a full analysis of these consumer complaints and ombudsperson documents will allow the public to fully answer questions posed in the NPRM.

Of course a full, transparent analysis of the record is the very last thing Pai and friends want, since it would clearly show the agency is ignoring the public interest to the sole benefit of a handful of well-loathed telecom duopolies. That said, the groups are quick to point out that Pai's failure to address, analyze, and release all these documents for review and comment prior to the close of the current comment deadline (which is August 30 if you haven't chimed in yet) could result in the FCC running afoul of the Administrative Procedure Act.

So while the FCC had originally claimed that releasing these comments would be too "burdensome," it has quickly shifted its position to now claim that the agency will release the complaints eventually, once they're redacted. Maybe:

"Pursuant to FOIA, the FCC must redact any personal information from the over 47,000 documents that have been requested before they can be released," a spokesperson for Pai told Ars today. "Currently, commission staffers are in the process of reviewing these documents and redacting any personal information. We anticipate releasing another batch of documents by the end of the week and will release the remainder as soon as we can."

Whether or not "as soon as we can" will be defined as "after we've finalized a vote to kill the popular rules later this year" remains to be seen.

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