Technology

Top Dem wants FBI to investigate fake net neutrality comments

The top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wants the Department of Justice and the FBI to look into fake comments being filed to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about net neutrality.

"I am deeply concerned that the sheer number of these potentially false comments suggest a coordinated attempt to materially mislead the FCC, and therefore a coordinated attempt to break federal law," Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) wrote in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.

"I urge you to take swift action to investigate who may be behind these comments and, if appropriate under applicable federal law and regulations, prosecute the people behind these fraudulent comments," he added.

The FCC declined to comment on the letter.

Reports have found that potentially hundreds of thousands of false comments have been filed to the FCC both in support of and against net neutrality measures. Some of the comments have impersonated the identities of real people who say that they filed no such comments to the FCC.

The fake comments come amid a period for the public to weigh in on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to roll back Obama-era net neutrality rules aimed at maintaining a level playing field for companies on the internet.

Fight for the Future, a pro-net neutrality advocacy group that has called attention to the fake comments before, praised Pallone's letter Wednesday.

"The FCC under Ajit Pai's leadership has repeatedly refused to meaningfully address the very serious issue of fake anti-net neutrality comments submitted into its docket using stolen names and addresses," the group said. "The public needs to know who has been attempting to distort the record with these fraudulent comments."

Pai's "Restoring Internet Freedom" proposal has endured significant criticism from liberals and consumer advocacy groups who supported former Chairman Tom Wheeler's Open Internet Order of 2015, which instituted the net neutrality rules. Telecommunications companies that say Wheeler's rules have stifled broadband investment have fiercely backed Pai's proposal.

A press release announcing Pallone's letter mentioned it among other letters from Democrats that have been sent to the FCC raising questions about the agency's cybersecurity.

The FCC has had to field questions in recent weeks over a distributed denial of service attack that it claims occurred during a John Oliver segment on net neutrality, causing a spike in users filing comments on the site.

This story was updated at 2:13 p.m.

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