- The Washington Times
Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Federal Communications Commission is facing bipartisan pressure to investigate how potentially millions of bogus comments were filed for and against the agency’s repeal of neutrality protections.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat, and Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, wrote FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday seeking answers about the onslaught of fake comments filed on the agency’s website last year as commissioners weighed rescinding the Obama-era internet regulations.

The identities of as many as 2 million Americans were stolen and used to file fake comments during the FCC’s comment period, including those of both Mr. Merkley and Mr. Toomley, the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Mr. Pai.

“The federal rulemaking process is an essential part of our democracy and allows Americans the opportunity to express their opinions on how government agencies decide important regulatory issues,” their letter said. “As such, we are concerned about the aforementioned fraudulent activity. We need to prevent the deliberate misuse of Americans’ personal information and ensure that the FCC is working to protect against current and future vulnerabilities in its system.”

“We encourage the FCC to determine who facilitated these fake comments,” the lawmakers wrote.

Additionally the senators are seeking information from Mr. Pai regarding any efforts being undertaken with the Department of Justice or state attorneys general in relation to the comments, as well as any measures implemented to avoid enduring similar incidents in the future.

The FCC did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Mr. Toomey and Mr. Merkley supported and opposed the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules, respectively, but public comments were filed in each of their names to the contrary.

“I don’t want [internet service providers] to have the power to block websites, slow them down, give some sites an advantage over others, or split the internet into ‘fast lanes’ for companies that pay and ‘slow lanes’ for the rest,” reads the public comment attributed to Mr. Toomey.

Around 94 percent of the comments were submitted multiple times, and the comment falsely attributed to Mr. Toomey was submitted a total of over 2.8 million times, according to a study conducted last year by Pew Research Center.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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