Dems press FCC watchdog to investigate fake net neutrality comments

Dems press FCC watchdog to investigate fake net neutrality comments
© Stefani Reynolds

A trio of Democratic senators is pressing the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) inspector general to investigate the millions of fake comments filed during the net neutrality debate.

In a letter addressed to FCC Inspector General David Hunt, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzThe Year Ahead: Push for privacy bill gains new momentum Giuliani attack on Twitter prompts backlash Bipartisan lawmakers call for investigation into VA amid issues with GI Bill benefit payments MORE (D-Hawaii) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySenate Dems urge Trump to continue nuclear arms control negotiations after treaty suspension Massachusetts is leading the way on gun safety, but we can’t do it alone Lobbying World MORE (D-Mass.) urged him to investigate fraud in the FCC public comment process.

The three lawmakers expressed “concern that the Commission has failed to address fraudulent comments and has not cooperated with other investigations.”

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“Despite concerns that the rule-making process was subverted by fraudulent comments and manipulated by special interests, including possible Russian interference, the FCC has seemingly ignored the issue, failed to provide answers to Congress, and dismissed public concerns,” the senators wrote.

Underscoring their criticisms of how the FCC has handled the process, they included a set of questions for Hunt to answer, addressing details such as when the FCC became aware of the fake comments and if the agency is complying with the New York state attorney general’s investigation.

The FCC’s public comment process around net neutrality has been mired in controversy over the past year. Broadband companies who oppose net neutrality rules have complained that the fake comments undermine the legitimacy of the process.

Net neutrality proponents have complained that disregarding the process obscures the voices of Americans who can’t take meetings with FCC commissioners in the way powerful telecom lobbyists can.

The FCC said in August that former chief information officer David Bray mislead the agency and the public about the comments system being hacked, compounding the controversy.

Bray claimed that the FCC comment system was hacked during a high-frequency period of commenting following late-night host John Oliver directing viewers to comment during his HBO show in 2017.

The website was flooded during that time with a number of pro–net neutrality comments.

When the public comment system crashed, Bray blamed a cyberattack.

“I am deeply disappointed that the FCC’s former Chief Information Officer (CIO), who was hired by the prior Administration and is no longer with the Commission, provided inaccurate information about this incident to me, my office, Congress, and the American people,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (R) said in August.