During the Federal Communication Commission’s open period of comment on its net neutrality repeal plan, the commission was flooded with over 22 million comments about net neutrality. Reports at the time, and subsequent analysis of the public data, shows that millions of those comments may have been submitted by bots, overseas persons, or even using stolen identities of real Americans.
At the time, the FCC refused to investigate the problem or remove the fraudulent comments from the record. The FCC also refused to comply with an investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman into the fake comments.
But today, net neutrality advocates won a small victory, as the federal government accountability office, the GAO, has opened an investigation into the use of impersonation on public comments filed with the FCC. In a response to a request from Democratic lawmakers, the GAO said that it “accepts the request” to “review the extent and pervasiveness of fraud and the misuse of American identities during federal rulemaking processes.” The investigation is not expected to open for at least five months, so this won’t be a fast process.
Schneiderman, who is also leading a lawsuit against the FCC’s net neutrality repeal, is delighted nonetheless. “I’m pleased that the U.S. Government Accountability Office agreed to also investigate these comments,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “My office will continue our investigation into this potential impersonation – which is a crime under New York law. The FCC’s decision to move ahead with its vote last month – despite widespread evidence of corruption – made a mockery of our public comment process and rewarded those who perpetrated fraud in order to advance their own agenda.”
In the meantime, a bill to overturn the FCC vote under the Congressional Review Act is picking up steam. It’s just one vote short of a majority in the Senate, and has 110 co-sponsors in the House. However, even if the Democrats do get one more Republican to vote for the bill, and successfully pass it through Congress, the chances of preserving net neutrality via the Congressional Review Act seem slim. A bill would have to pass the House of Representatives, where Republicans have firmer control, and then be signed into law by President Trump. Given that he backed the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality provisions, the chances of that happening seem slim right now.