FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Admits That Russians Interfered In the Net Neutrality Commenting Process
As litigation pressure mounts, FCC chairman Ajit Pai has admitted that Russians interfered with the agency’s open commenting process related to the repeal of net neutrality.
An extremely contentious battle over net neutrality in the United States has a familiar interloper: Russia. Earlier this week, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai flatly admitted that Russian operatives were actively attempting to persuade the agency to repeal net neutrality, with the agency’s open commenting period gamed with thousands of fake comments from Russian accounts.
In a court filing issued this week, Pai admitted that it was a “fact” that a “half-million comments [were] submitted from Russian e-mail addresses and… nearly eight million comments [were] filed by e-mail addresses from e-mail domains associated with FakeMailGenerator.com…”
(The full statement from Pai is here).
The admission marks a strong shift for Pai, who previously denied or negated the importance of fake comments during the FCC’s open commenting period.
The filing itself is part of a broader lawsuit against the FCC by The New York Times and Buzzfeed, both of whom are seeking access to FCC documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The FCC, led by Pai, has pushed back on those requests, arguing that the release of sensitive internal documents could open the agency to security threats.
An earlier report found that nearly 100 percent of verified comments from actual citizens were in favor of preserving net neutrality.
Separately, FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has sharply criticized her own agency, while calling for the release of the documents in question. She also pointed to extreme spamming of the FCC’s comment system, with Russian interference a major contributing factor.
“As many as nine and a half million people had their identities stolen and used to file fake comments, which is a crime under both federal and state laws,” Rosenworcel declared. “Nearly eight million comments were filed from e-mail domains associated with FakeMailGenerator.com. On top of this, roughly half a million comments were filed from Russian e-mail addresses.
“Something here is rotten — and it’s time for the FCC to come clean.”
The open commenting period occurred in 2017, ahead of the FCC’s momentous rollback of net neutrality rules.
Since that point, a number of U.S. states have fiercely fought back against the FCC’s decision, with California leading the charge. Earlier this year, California passed a strong net neutrality protection law, setting the stage for a major showdown against the FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Within moments of passing its neutrality-protecting SB 822, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit. Soon thereafter, several major ISPs filed their own lawsuits.
Just recently, California agreed to stay the implementation of its neutrality protection law, pending a ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court in early 2019. The FCC’s rollback prohibits any “state or local measures that would effectively impose rules or requirements that we have repealed,” though California legislators argue that the FCC lacks jurisdiction to enforce its provisions.
The DOJ’s lawsuit, perhaps symbolically, has been filed as United States v. State of California.