FCC rejects NY AG's probe into net neutrality comments

FCC rejects NY AG's probe into net neutrality comments
© Greg Nash

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) denied the New York attorney general’s request for information about comments filed in the agency’s net neutrality record.

Thomas Johnson, the FCC’s general counsel, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) on Thursday saying that the commission would not be handing over logs Schneiderman requested in order to investigate fake comments.

Johnson wrote that “while your letter suggests that the public comment process was somehow ‘corrupted’ by the alleged submission of comments under false names, you offer no evidence that this activity affected the Commission’s ability to review and respond to comments in the record."

The letter was first reported by Politico.

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Johnson said that Chairman Ajit Pai did not rely on dubious comments in drafting his proposal to scrap the 2015 net neutrality rules. He also questioned whether Schneiderman has the authority to investigate a federal agency’s rulemaking process. Johnson argued that handing over the comment logs would pose privacy issues for legitimate commenters.

“Today the FCC make[s] clear that it will continue to obstruct a law enforcement investigation,” said Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman’s office. “It’s easy for the FCC to claim that there’s no problem with the process, when they’re hiding the very information that would allow us to determine if there was a problem.”

Earlier this week, Schneiderman joined a growing list of Democrats who have called on Pai to cancel the FCC’s Dec. 14 vote to repeal the rules. They argue that the rulemaking process has been tainted by what appears to be a campaign to spam the public record with fake comments.

But Pai has held firm, rejecting any calls to delay the vote. And with a Republican majority at the commission, the repeal order is expected to be approved.

“This letter shows the FCC’s sheer contempt for public input and unreasonable failure to support integrity in its process,” said Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “To put it simply, there is evidence in the FCC’s files that fraud has occurred and the FCC is telling law enforcement and victims of identity theft that it is not going to help.”

But Pai is unlikely to be moved by complaints about the comment process. As his general counsel wrote on Thursday, Republicans believe that the existence of fake comments isn’t enough to derail the vote.

“As in many important rulemakings, this proceeding carries the potential for advocates on either side to abuse the process to create an appearance of numerical advantage,” Johnson wrote. “But the Commission does not make policy decisions merely by tallying the comments on either side of a proposal to determine what position has greater support, nor does it attribute greater weight to comments based on the submitter’s identity."