Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Ajit Pai seems to have learned his management style from the person who appointed him to head the commission, President Donald Trump, which is to deregulate whether the public and large parts of American industry like it or not.
That is Pai’s approach to repealing the Net Neutrality rules passed under President Obama in 2015, which force everyone who uses the Internet to maintain an open passage for every website and company.
More than 23 million people have filed comments about Pai’s proposed rulemaking, which comes up for a final vote December 14, with most opposed to scrapping the rules that ensure everyone and every company, large or small, rich or poor, has access to the Internet.
That far exceeds the three to four million comments that were filed when the FCC passed the current rules on Net Neutrality less than three years ago.
The problem is many of those comments have come from outside the U.S. where the American rules don’t apply, and most of those support Trump and Pai’s position that the way to innovation is to let the big players like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast make their own rules, and create fast and slow lanes to boost or hurt various websites and players.
At least 1.7 million of the comments have come from outside the U.S. and, of those, at least 440,000 come from Russian web addresses, most assume to be bots that automatically spew out a stream of comments based on how it was programmed by its owner somewhere in the East Bloc.
Having so many comments come from Russia after the Russians hacking of the 2016 election and other activities to monitor, control and disrupt the Internet has raised red flags that have led to investigations by the New York State Attorney General and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The New York AG found that many of the Russian posts used the names of real American citizens without their knowledge or permission, which is a violation of the law.
“That’s akin to identify theft,” said New York AG Eric Schneiderman, “and it happened on a massive scale.”
As a result, Schneiderman and his staff reached out to the FCC for help to determine the real source and purpose of the Russian sourced comments but he has said that the federal agency under Pai has been non-responsive or stonewalled them.
It's important to spread the word about this. Read my open letter: https://t.co/xxFjSgoqVP
— Eric Schneiderman (@AGSchneiderman) November 21, 2017
After being frustrated in his official efforts to get the FCC to cooperate, Schneiderman finally wrote an open letter to the FCC, which he made public. He is continuing the state investigation in any case.
“In an era where foreign governments have indisputably tried to use the internet and social media to influence our elections,” wrote the AG, “federal and state governments should be working together to ensure that malevolent actors cannot subvert our administrative agencies’ decision-making processes.”
FCC spokesman Brian Hart sniffed that Schneiderman’s facts are “completely inaccurate,” and insisted the comments whether real or from bots is spread across all sides of the issue.
Hart claims that if anything the suspicious activity has been supportive of Net Neutrality.
Hart said that the FCC simply lets all the comments stand so as to “err on the side of keeping the public record open.” He said they do not have resources to “investigate every comment that is filed.”
In other words, the FCC will not do anything to determine if the Russians or others are trying to influence the process, especially since they seem to be on Pai’s side of the issue.
— Eric Schneiderman (@AGSchneiderman) November 29, 2017
Pew Research Center, according to Bloomberg News, did an analysis and said many submissions include false or misleading personal information, with 57 percent of comments analyzed using temporary or duplicate email addresses.
“There’s clear evidence of organized campaigns to flood the comments with repeated messages,” said Pew, noting that it appears that 94 percent of comments were submitted multiple times, in some cases up to thousands of times.
At the request of Democrats in the House of Representatives and Hawaii Democratic Senator Brian Schatz, the Government Accountability Office is also looking into the emailed comments, including the use of people’s identities without permission, service interruptions, automated comments and missing emails, spokesman Charles Young told Bloomberg.
According to Arstechnicia, the FCC told members of Congress that it will not reveal to them how it plans to prevent future attacks on the public comment system.
— ACLU (@ACLU) November 29, 2017
With only two weeks until the FCC rushed to vote – with Pai and his Republican majority on the commission certain to dominate the results – it is unlikely the GAO will have any meaningful information that would make a difference in time.
Vanity Fair’s The Hive explained what is at stake.
“Rolling back Obama-era net-neutrality rules would dismantle prohibitions that prevent Internet service providers from charging companies for faster access or from slowing down or speeding up services like Netflix and YouTube,” wrote The Hive.
“Under the updated rules,” continues The Hive, “Internet providers would be asked to promise in writing not to slow down competitors traffic or block Web sites – a voluntary system that the FCC would not actually enforce.”
The FCC says it is kicking the enforcement over to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has no staff or resources to do the job, and no rules in place to punish anyone who violates the voluntary agreements.
In other words, it is the wild west again and the government is going to let those with the biggest pile of money be in charge.
No wonder the FCC doesn’t care about the comments. They are ignoring them anyway.
The group Free Press, which supports keeping the Net Neutrality rules put in place in 2015, believes “There’s substantial evidence there was considerable tampering with the process,” said spokesman Tim Karr.
Pai is taking the position that since there appears to be at least some tampering, he may as well reject the opinions expressed in the comments completely.
Pai’s plan, reports Bloomberg, is “based on the facts and the law, not the number of comments, the agency said in a statement. “The commenting process is not an opinion poll – and for good reason.”
That is fine with the trade group US Telecom, whose members include Verizon AT&T and other big broadband providers who will be in the driver’s seat under Pai’s plan.
“We shouldn’t be making policy like we’re voting for ‘Dancing With The Stars,'” said US Telecom spokesman Jonathan Spalter.
What this all really means is that Pai has already made up his mind to serve the agenda of the big powerful telecom companies – even if many other businesses like Google and Netflix oppose the repeal of Net Neutrality – while ignoring the individuals, small business and business startups who are likely to face higher costs and less access to consumers.
— Timothy B. Lee (@binarybits) November 29, 2017
That means the rich can get richer – because they can afford to buy their way in – and the poor will stay poor – which is the Trump and Pai way.
I have an #IMPORTANT task for everyone reading this post!
1) PLEASE post something about #NetNeutrality every single day until the FCC backs down!
2) PLEASE respond to every single post containing misinformation & set the record straight & educate people!
… Save the internet! pic.twitter.com/IfSjDxJY83
— Barnacules Nerdgasm (@Barnacules) November 29, 2017