From April 27th to August 30th of this year, the FCC received 21.7 million comments regarding rolling back net neutrality rules put in place during the Obama administration. These rules compel internet service providers to treat all content equally and prevent them from throttling or accelerating the loading of webpages based on how much money they were paid by the content providers.
As I wrote last week, a large portion of those comments, especially those in favor of ending net neutrality rules, were submitted under dubious circumstances:
An investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman revealed that hundreds of thousands of fake comments supporting the elimination of net neutrality have been submitted to the FCC this year including many submitted using actual names and contact information of people who are victims of identity theft to support this corporate agenda. Software engineer Jeff Kao who once worked for the FCC as an intern wrote a program to analyze the comments and he believes that the number of fake comments may be over 1.3 million.
Now more information has come out. An investigation by the Pew Research Center showed that “many submissions seemed to include false or misleading personal information:
Some 57% of the comments utilized either duplicate email addresses or temporary email addresses created with the intention of being used for a short period of time and then discarded. In addition, many individual names appeared thousands of times in the submissions. As a result, it is often difficult to determine if any given comment came from a specific citizen or from an unknown person (or entity) submitting multiple comments using unverified names and email addresses… In many instances, thousands of comments were submitted simultaneously – down to the second.
According to reporting by The Verge, “a senior FCC official said that 7.5 million of those comments were the exact same letter, which was submitted using 45,000 fake email addresses.”
But it gets worse. Bloomberg reports that nearly half a million of the comments submitted came from Russian email addresses:
Someone was trying to game the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s electronic public comment system on net-neutrality rules.
But who? Was it supporters or foes of the open internet rules — or was it the Russians?
A study has found more than 7.75 million comments were submitted from email domains attributed to FakeMailGenerator.com, and they had nearly identical wording. The FCC says some of the nearly 23 million comments on Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to gut Obama-era rules were filed under the same name more than 90 times each.
And then there were the 444,938 from Russian email addresses, which also raised eyebrows, even though it’s unclear if they were from actual Russian citizens or computer bots originating in the U.S. or elsewhere. […]
Given the fact that the rules apply to the U.S., an unusual number of comments — 1.74 million — were attributed to international addresses, with 444,938 from Russia and nearly as many from Germany, Emprata found. All but 25 of the emails from those countries were against repealing the 2015 rules.
At least one FCC commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel, is alarmed by this new information:
There's something not right in the @FCC record on #NetNeutrality. Bots, bogus comments, and stolen names. A questionable distributed denial of service attack the @USGAO is investigating. New York Attorney General @AGSchneiderman describes problems here: https://t.co/oOrJD44Z1V
— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) November 22, 2017
Half a million comments from Russian e-mails.
Hundreds of thousands of comments with stolen identities.
One alleged DDoS attack.
The integrity of the public record matters.
No way the @FCC should vote without figuring out what is going on.
— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) November 30, 2017
Commissioner Rosenworcel made a heartfelt plea to all Americans to help convince her fellow commissioners to halt their march toward reversing net neutrality until questions surrounding these fake comments is are resolved:
Before my fellow FCC members vote to dismantle net neutrality, they need to get out from behind their desks and computers and speak to the public directly. The FCC needs to hold hearings around the country to get a better sense of how the public feels about the proposal.
When they do this, they will likely find that, outside of a cadre of high-paid lobbyists and lawyers in Washington, there isn’t a constituency that likes this proposal. In fact, the FCC will probably discover that they have angered the public and caused them to question just whom the agency works for.
I think the FCC needs to work for the public, and therefore that this proposal needs to be slowed down and eventually stopped. In the time before the agency votes, anyone who agrees should do something old-fashioned: Make a ruckus.
Reach out to the rest of the FCC now. Tell them they can’t take away internet openness without a fight.
In the age of online issue-based advocacy and the prevalence of websites allowing people to submit comments, having large numbers of duplicate comments on either side of an issue isn’t surprising or evidence that the system is being “gamed”. However, the fact that personal information appears to have been stolen in order to create comments and that such an extraordinary number of comments from foreign email addresses IS alarming. Who is trying to interfere with democracy in America? Who is funding this dedicated effort to sway the FCC commissioners? Given the stakes (i.e., the immense profits that can be made from “paid prioritization” by ISPs), it’s not a far stretch to imagine that it’s the ISPs themselves that are involved. Who else is better positioned to flood the comment submission process with comments that support their efforts to remove consumer protections.
At the end of the day, it may not matter. FCC Chair Ajit Pai is fully supportive of the removal of these important protections. He was deliberately chosen by President Trump and, as a former lawyer for Verizon, knows full well that ISPs stand to reap a windfall if they are allowed to manipulate access to the internet in favor of those with the most money. And the ISPs themselves will be the beneficiaries in terms of increased revenues as they hold the internet hostage in order to extract the most profit from it possible.
Here’s what YOU can do:
- Send a letter to the FCC. You can do that HERE.
- Call Congress and tell them to act by passing laws that keep the internet free and open. There’s a handy form to help with that HERE.
- Set up or attend a protest including the big on in front of the FCC Building in Washington, DC on Dec. 14th.
- Make a donation to groups like FreePress.net or FightForTheFuture.org that are fighting to maintain net neutrality.
PLEASE call 1-202-418-1000 to reach the voicemail of the Chairman of the FCC. Say your name, city, and state and that you oppose the repeal of Net Neutrality. Took 12 seconds. RT the fuck out of this, please.
— Sarah Sweeney (@heysarahsweeney) November 30, 2017