The attorneys general of nearly 20 states asked the Federal Communications Commission to delay a vote on changing the country’s net neutrality rules as they investigate reports that impersonators posted hundreds of thousands of fake comments on the commission’s notice of the proposed change.
"If the well of public comment has been poisoned by falsified submissions, the Commission may be unable to rely on public comments that would help it reach a legitimate conclusion to the rulemaking process," the attorneys general of 18 states said in a letter sent Wednesday to the FCC. "Or, it must give less weight to the public comments submitted which also undermines the process."
The FCC plans to vote Thursday on gutting the Obama-era rules, meant to stop broadband companies such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from exercising more control over what people watch and see on the internet.
“This is akin to identity theft on a massive scale – and theft of someone’s voice in a democracy is particularly concerning,” said the letter, led by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and signed by the attorneys general of 17 other states: California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman accused the FCC last month of stonewalling his office’s investigation into thousands of suspicious comments made the to the commission’s net neutrality rule change notice. Since then, Schneiderman said his office has gotten more than 5,000 complaints from people whose identities were used to submit fake comments to the FCC’s notice.
In its letter to the FCC, the 18 other state attorneys general said they have received similar complaints.
“I’m sick to my stomach knowing that somebody stole my identity and used it to push a viewpoint that I do not hold,” an Ohio resident wrote in one of the complaints. “This solidifies my stance that in no way can the FCC use the public comments as a means to justify the vote they will hold here shortly.”
A South Carolina resident said one of the false comments was posted using his or her mother’s information, even though she died in 2009.
“This is terrifying,” a Missouri resident wrote in another complaint. “Who knows what else has been said falsely under my name?”
As many as 2 million comments posted to the notice are believed to have been made using stolen identities, Schneiderman said Wednesday.
“The FCC is moving full steam ahead with a vote based on this corrupted process, while refusing to cooperate with an investigation,” Schneiderman said. “As we’ve told the FCC: moving forward with this vote would make a mockery of our public comment process and reward those who perpetrated this fraud to advance their own hidden agenda. The FCC must postpone this vote and work with us to get to the bottom of what happened.”
Net-neutrality rules bar cable and phone companies from favoring certain websites and apps — such as their own services — and give the FCC more oversight over privacy and the activities of telecom companies. Supporters worry that repealing them would hurt startups and other companies that couldn't afford to pay a broadband company for faster access to customers.
Critics of the rules say that they hurt investment in internet infrastructure and represent too much government involvement in business. Phone and cable companies say the rules aren't necessary because they already support an open internet, and have lobbied hard for their repeal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.