So many fake and foreign comments in favor of net neutrality have deluged the Federal Communications Commission that the process has been rendered meaningless, according to an analysis released Monday.
A National Legal and Policy Center examination of comments submitted online from July 3-12 showed 1.3 million came from overseas, including Russia, France and Germany. Thousands of those used phony email and physical addresses.
The forensic analysis released Monday was the third performed by the right-leaning watchdog group, which concluded that “the deception appears to be so massive that the comment process has been rendered unmanageable and meaningless.”
“More ominously, with hundreds of thousands of comments appearing to come from Russia, we must ask ourselves whether once again, Russian interests are attempting to sow chaos in U.S. official policymaking proceedings,” said Peter Flaherty, president of the center.
The comment period for the FCC’s proposed rule-making to roll back its 2015 Title II regulations, known as net neutrality, ended Monday. Replies are due Aug. 16.
The FCC docket shows 8.17 million comments have been submitted online regarding the proposed rule, known as the Restoring Internet Freedom Act.
One decidedly authentic comment arriving shortly before the deadline came from the Internet Association, which represents Silicon Valley tech giants such as Google and Facebook. The association urged the FCC to retain the Obama-era regulations.
“The facts are clear: the 2015 Open Internet Order is working and does not need to be changed,” Michael Beckerman, the trade association’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “There is zero evidence that the Order has harmed the internet economy.”
Fans of net neutrality have pointed to phony comments from the other side, including several dozen adopting the identities of real U.S. citizens without their knowledge, but the extent of the fakery in support of net neutrality appears to be far more widespread.
Fight for the Future, a digital rights advocacy group, reported that 2 million FCC submissions were generated on Wednesday, the net neutrality day of action.
Of the 1.3 million comments flagged, 325,528 were submitted from one Russian address. Many of the foreign comments used fake email address and domains. The vast majority came from Pornhub.com and the German domain Hurra.de.
“Roughly 19,116 comments followed the same pattern as previous comments submitted into the docket utilizing domain extensions generated by what appears to be an online fake email generator program,” said the National Legal and Policy Center analysis.
So far, the FCC has refused to remove the fake posts. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a May 30 statement that “what matters most are the quality of the comments, not the quantity.”
Net neutrality has become a cause celebre for progressives, who argue that repealing the rule will result in abuses by internet service providers such as Verizon and Comcast. Free market advocates say the regulations are discouraging innovation and invention.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, has described net neutrality as “Obamacare for the internet.” He and eight other Senate Republicans have sponsored legislation to nullify the 2015 regulations, although the FCC, with its Republican majority, is expected to act to repeal net neutrality first.
“Putting a stop to the FCC and the Obama administration’s unauthorized power grab over the internet is an important step toward ensuring continued technological innovation,” Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said in a statement.
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