New York Attorney General Urges FCC to Delay Net Neutrality Vote

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Dec. 4 urged the Federal Communications Commission to postpone its planned vote to roll back net neutrality rules, citing large numbers of allegedly fake electronically filed public comments about the agency’s effort.

Schneiderman (D) has been investigating whether about one million of the public comments to the agency were filed by people who falsely assumed the identities of others.

“It’s vital that the FCC delay the vote until we know what happened,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

Democrats and public interest groups have urged the commission to delay the planned Dec. 14 vote, citing the impact of the proposed rules impact on internet users and allegedly falsified and auto-generated comments about the plan.

FCC Chairman AJit Pai’s plan would remove the current ban on internet service providers’ blocking or slowing data flowing through their networks. Broadband providers like Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. have cheered the planned changes. The commission is likely to approve Pai’s plan on a party-line vote. Issues around comments may surface in a likely court challenge by opponents,

The FCC’s Office of Inspector General has agreed to help Schneiderman in his investigation after initially not replying to his requests for related records, Schneiderman’s office said in a statement. FCC spokespersons didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“At 8:20 am this morning, knowing that we were holding this press conference, the FCC’s Inspector General’s Office finally emailed my team offering their assistance in our investigation,” Schneiderman said at a press conference. “This is a big step, but given the FCC’s conduct over the past eight months, we remain skeptical and will continue to call on the commission for full cooperation, including an appropriate federal investigation into the corruption of the rulemaking proceedings.”

Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who opposes Pai’s plan, joined Schneiderman at the press conference and echoed his call on the agency to delay the vote.

“The FCC is on course to eliminate net neutrality guided by a record corrupted by hundreds of thousands of filings with stolen identities, close to half a million comments from Russian e-mail addresses, and an alleged distributed denial of service attack,” Rosenworcel said. “This is unacceptable.” Studies, including ones by the Pew Research Center and Broadband for America, a broadband industry association, have found millions of the 23 million public comments on the plan — on either side of the issue — likely didn’t actually originate from the people listed as having submitted them. About one million of these comments may have misused the real names and addresses of Americans, “including tens of thousands of New Yorkers,” Schneiderman said, citing his office’s analysis. In a Nov. 21 letter, Schneiderman alerted Pai that he has been investigating claims that New Yorkers’ real names were fraudulently used for comments siding with Pai on net neutrality.

Twenty-eight Democratic senators, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), also asked Pai in a letter Dec. 4 to cancel or delay the vote. “Without additional information about the alleged anomalies surrounding the public record, the FCC cannot conduct a thorough and fair evaluation of the public’s views on this topic,” the lawmakers wrote.

Pai and his allies have acknowledged the existence of questionable comments in the record. But the FCC under administrative law is only required to consider substantive comments, meaning the agency could set aside questionable comments as long as they didn’t raise novel legal arguments. Pai has said the FCC didn’t attempt to crack down on questionable comments during the period for public input because he wanted as open a process as possible.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Daly in Washington at kdaly@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com