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FCC Commissioner Urges Fraud Investigation Ahead of Net Neutrality Vote

Jessica Rosenworcel argued on Saturday that her own agency should be investigated for its fraudulent public comment process, days before a vote on net neutrality protections

Protesters gathered at a Verizon store in MIssion Viejo, California on Thursday to demand the FCC uphold net neutrality rules. The demonstration was one of hundreds held all over the country. (Photo: Brendan Cleak—Team Internet/Flickr/cc)

Calls grew over the weekend for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate potential fraud regarding its call for public comments on net neutrality—before the panel votes on the issue on Thursday.

At Wired, FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel—one of two Democrats on the commission who are expected to vote against a net neutrality repeal—raised alarm with an editorial about the integrity of the 23 million comments that have been left on the FCC's website.

"Roughly a million comments were fraudulently filed using the names of real people," wrote Rosenworcel. "What's more, as many as half a million additional comments were filed from Russian email addresses. And 50,000 FCC consumer complaints are missing from the record, even though this is just the kind of data the FCC should be using to inform its efforts."

The commissioner cited a Wired  report about mounting evidence that bots generated more than one million comments that were submitted to the FCC, "to artificially amplify the call to repeal net neutrality protections" as well as to defend the rule, resulting in an obscured picture of how Americans view the issue.

The transparent public comment process demanded by the Administrative Procedure Act, Rosenworcel wrote, "has been utterly corrupted, and it could have wide-ranging implications at every other government agency that seeks public input on its policies."

A poll taken by Comsumer Reports in September found that two-thirds of Americans support an open Internet, and on Thursday, hundreds of protests  were held at Verizon stores across the country to defend the rule.

Net neutrality protections keep internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating against websites and content by placing them in an internet "slow lane," while other sites that can afford to pay a premium for faster service. Proponents of the rule say allowing companies like Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner to discriminate against content would threaten the ability of journalists to report the news freely and activists to use the Internet to reach supporters, and would unfairly favor wealthy companies like Google and Facebook which would be able to pay to be in the "fast lane."

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation into the potential fraud, but FCC chair Ajit Pai has indicated that the vote will go on as scheduled on December 14. On Friday, the panel refused to turn over documents regarding the potentially fake comments to Schneiderman's office.

Supporters of net neutrality spoke out on social media on Sunday about the fraudulent comments and the impending vote.

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