Millions of comments have been submitted to the Federal Communications Commission’s public portal in advance of a vote today to roll back net neutrality rules — which say that internet service providers must treat all web traffic equally.
The high volume of comments and the fact that many statements in opposition to net neutrality appear to be from faked sources or duplicates, has supporters of a free and open internet crying foul.
The Pew Research Center analyzed the comments that were submitted between April 27 and Aug. 30 of this year. During that time period nearly 22 million comments were submitted, dwarfing the 4 million that were submitted during a comment process on the same topic in 2014.
The analysis found:
- 57 percent of the comments used duplicate or temporary email addresses.
- Of the 21.7 million comments, 6 percent were unique. The other 94 percent were submitted multiple times — in some cases, hundreds of thousands of times. The seven most-submitted comments (six of which argued in favor of changes the FCC wants to make) comprised 38 percent of all the submissions.
- On nine different occasions, more than 75,000 comments were submitted at the very same second — often including identical or highly similar comments.
Further investigations by multiple news outlets have found real people whose names and addresses appeared on comments they didn’t submit.
A search of the FCC comments by this news organization found names and addresses in Centerville, Kettering, Fairborn and Beavercreek to name a few, linked to fake comments used to lobby the feds to get rid of net neutrality rules.
Former Miami County resident Carol Bayse has heard of the net neutrality issue, but said she doesn’t have strong enough opinions on it to write to the FCC. Yet her name and a former address in Franklin County showed up with a statement against net neutrality rules.
She said she was confused and concerned when she found out her name was attached to a fake comment.
“That’s where the internet is a scary thing,” Bayse said. “Our identities are being taken and it’s just, how do you stop it?”
A recent Politico poll shows 52 percent of Americans are in favor of maintaining net neutrality, while only 18 percent were actively opposed to it.
In response to media requests and a letter from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman expressing concern over the volume of fake comments, the FCC said it plans to vote on the “Restoring Internet Freedom” rule change on Thursday as planned.
The commission acknowledged there is always a potential for abuse of the open public comment form. In the past the agency has received comments from Superman and Batman, among others.
“But the commission does not make policy decisions merely by tallying the comments on either side of the proposal to determine what position has greater support, nor does it attribute greater weight to comments based on the submitter’s identity,” FCC General Counsel Thomas Johnson, Jr. said in response to Schneiderman’s inquiry.
The FCC said it did not consider any of the comments identified as fake in drafting the proposed rule change.
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