Government watchdog agrees to probe fake net neutrality comments

Government watchdog agrees to probe fake net neutrality comments
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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has agreed to take up an investigation into fake comments being filed to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding its plan to roll back net neutrality rules.

The GAO’s decision to probe the comments comes after a request from Democratic Reps. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksEmbattled Juul seeks allies in Washington House Democrat knocks Trump's Cummings tweet: 'This guy is a terrible, terrible human being' Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch MORE (N.Y.), Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsNikki Haley voices 'complete support' for Pence House committee heads demand Coast Guard Academy explain handling of harassment allegations Can the Democrats unseat Trump? MORE (Md.) and Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost House Democratic chairman launches probe of e-cigarette makers Lawmakers criticize EPA draft rule for curbing rights to challenge pollution permits MORE (N.J.) asking it review the matter.

“We understand that the FCC’s rulemaking process requires it to address all comments it receives, regardless of who submits them,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to the GAO in December. “However, we do not believe any outside parties should be permitted to generate any comments to any federal governmental entity using information it knows to be false, such as the identities of those submitting the comments.”

During the FCC comment-filing period ahead of December's rule change, several studies found that large amounts of net neutrality comments, mostly in support of scrapping the regulations, were actually filed under fake identities or fraudulently under the identities of people who said they didn’t file comments or who were deceased.

Democratic lawmakers, government officials and advocacy groups have criticized the presence of the fake comments, saying that they unfairly influenced discourse around the net neutrality debate.

Lawmakers and state attorneys general had pressed the FCC to delay its December vote until the fake comments were examined further. The agency declined, saying at the time that such requests were “just evidence that supporters of heavy-handed Internet regulations are becoming more desperate by the day as their effort to defeat Chairman Pai's plan to restore Internet freedom has stalled.”

In the final version of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to get rid of the rules, the agency said that such public comments “in no way impeded the Commission’s ability to identify or respond to material issues in the record,” stressing that it focused on “substantive legal and public policy questions.”