Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and 17 other Democratic state attorneys general said Wednesday that the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission should delay a vote on discarding net neutrality protections until millions of apparently fake public comments and stolen email identities are investigated.
There have been reports of FCC comments filed with the emails belonging to dead people and minors. The state officials called it “akin to identity theft on a massive scale.”
An estimated two million comments submitted to the FCC this year in the net neutrality record could have misused the identities of Americans, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. Based on his investigation, Schneiderman said that 50,000 to 100,000 Pennsylvania comments to the FCC may have used stolen identities. The number for New Jersey was 10,000 to 50,000. Schneiderman said that the FCC is not cooperating with the investigation into the bogus comments.
“I’m very concerned that a pattern of fake comments using the names of real people is being used to undermine net neutrality and the legitimacy of the FCC’s process,” Shapiro said in a statement Wednesday. “Given all the tainted comments, I’m asking the Federal Communications Commission to delay the vote.”
Shapiro on Wednesday released a tool to search the FCC for bogus comments. (This reporter found bogus comments filed in his name, and the names of his wife and three sons.)
Shapiro wants Pennsylvania residents to log on to the website and search the FCC docket to determine whether a comment has been filed in their name without their knowledge. If such a comment is found, it can be reported to Shapiro using an electronic complaints form.
In addition to Shapiro and Schneiderman, the attorneys general calling for a vote delay at the FCC are from California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. They put their request for a vote delay in a letter to the FCC.
The FCC did not respond immediately for comment. The agency is expected to pass the new rules in a partisan vote Thursday in Washington. If the vote goes as expected, the commissioners will broadly deregulate the internet as an information service instead of a utility. They also will discard rules banning throttling internet traffic and blocking websites.
Ajit Pai, who was appointed to the FCC by President Barack Obama and promoted to head the agency by President Trump, says the reclassification will lead to more investment and innovation on the internet. Pai has said fears of what will happen with the internet have been overblown by critics. Comcast, Verizon, and other big telecom companies have lobbied for the changes.
Based on the FCC docket, more than 23 million Americans supposedly submitted comments in the complex rules, which experts say is an unrealistically high number. The FCC has acknowledged irregularities with the public comment but says they did not influence the agency’s decision.