The New York Attorney General has doubled-down on his effort to review the recent net neutrality comment process, producing a search page for individuals to find out if their name was used to send in a comment.
Eric Schneiderman has repeatedly warned that millions of fake comments – using real people's names but without their consent – were sent to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of its required public outreach over plans to scrap current rules on internet access.
Most of the fake comments were supportive of the FCC's current effort and, critics assert, have been used by the FCC management to justify their decision to push forward with their plan despite widespread public opposition.
One study that dug into the comment process concluded that "it's highly likely that more than 99 per cent of the truly unique comments were in favor of keeping net neutrality."
Despite the importance of the public comment process, however, the FCC has failed to address the issue and also refused to assist the NY attorney general office in its investigation. That prompted Schneiderman to write an open letter last month outlining his concerns and highlighting the FCC's inaction.
On Monday, he and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel claimed a victory of sorts when the FCC's Inspector General agreed to assist in the investigation.
Schneiderman remained highly critical however. "Prior to releasing the open letter, the Attorney General’s office had contacted the FCC and its top officials at least nine times to request assistance in its investigation," a statement from his offices reads. "The FCC and the FCC Inspector General’s office had been unwilling to provide records necessary to investigate who may be behind the misused identities – a departure from past practice."
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He then notes: "However, earlier today, the FCC’s Inspector General’s office reversed course, indicating that it will assist with the Attorney General’s investigation."
Schneiderman's office has created a webpage with a simple search facility that people can use to see if their name has been used without their consent in the FCC filings. You can type in your name and the system will do a search of the FCC's database and return any matches.
If you do find a match, the NY attorney general has sent up a web form where you can report it. With literally millions of suspected fake comments, the form has already had some success. "Over 3,200 people have reported misused identities to the Attorney General’s office, including nearly 350 New Yorkers from across the state," said Schneiderman in a statement.
It seems unlikely that even if the FCC's flawed public comment process is exposed as such that it will impact the decision to throw out the current net neutrality rules. And critics have already noted that the FCC's inspector general has only agreed to assist after the FCC voted to move past the comment process, so the opportunity to call for a delay in action has disappeared.
However, if Schneiderman does continue to pursue the issue and demonstrates that the process itself was fundamentally flawed then it may lead to improvements in future public comment processes. After all, the public comment process is seen as a critical part of federal policy-making so if it cannot be trusted to be effective, there will be a big push to make it effective rather than simply throw it away.
The FCC is expected to vote to approve the new plan at its meeting on December 14, with the expectation of a 3-2 vote of its five commissioners along party lines.
Those opposed to the decision have turned to Republican Senators as the last chance to stop FCC chair Ajit Pai from pushing his proposal forward. Some Senators have reported hundreds of phone calls and thousands of emails from constituents asking them to intervene and protect existing net neutrality rules. But so far only one Republican lawmaker, Susan Collins (R-ME), has publicly opposed the plan, making it a virtual certainty that it will be approved later this month.
That decision will then almost certainty be faced with a number of lawsuits, as has happened with every one of the three iterations of FCC rules tackling the internet. Two of those legal actions were successful; one was not. Ironically, the one that stood up to legal scrutiny is the same set of rules that this new proposal will tear up. ®