Study Finds More Than 1 Million Allegedly Fake Net Neutrality Comments Filed

FCC doors

Well more than 1 million public comments on the Federal Communications Commission’s effort to roll back Obama-era net neutrality rules came from fake email addresses outside the U.S., according to a conservative-leaning think tank’s forensic analysis released July 17.

The National Legal and Policy Center, a small-government policy advocacy group, found that more than 1.3 million comments filed between July 3 and July 12 came from Germany, Russia or France, or were submitted from the U.S. but entered into the system as having come from an “international filer.” Of those, more than 1 million came from email addresses. Others came from the email domain or otherwise seemed to come from addresses created by a fake email generator, NLPC said.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is overseeing a plan to reverse utility-style common carrier regulation of broadband providers. Pai may also reverse other aspects of the FCC’s existing net neutrality rules, which were approved against GOP opposition in 2015 and rely on common carrier classification. July 17 was the deadline for initial public comments on Pai’s plan.

More 8.4 million comments in all had been submitted on the FCC’s proposal as of July 17. The FCC will collect reply comments through Aug. 16.

Under administrative law requirements, the FCC only has to give the public an opportunity to comment on rulemakings and weigh any comments that raise meaningful legal or technical questions. Evan Swarztrauber, director of public affairs at Tech Freedom, a technology think tank that opposes the current rules, told Bloomberg BNA that a large volume of fake comments is unlikely to affect the direction Pai ultimately takes.

“It’s interesting because really the public comment system is for people to submit substantive material,” he said. “The only reason it matters is if we’re counting. If we’re not counting, then who cares. The FCC has to look at the quality and not quantity.”

Tim Karr, senior director of strategy at Free Press, an internet advocacy group that supports the existing rules, told Bloomberg BNA that he still hopes Pai will take note of the authentic comments in the record.

“While some foes of open internet protections are pushing to get public comments on the issue, they're losing the numbers game,” Karr said. “Thankfully, millions of real people have commented at the FCC using other means, and the consensus is clear: Americans demand net neutrality safeguards.”

Free Press was among the groups leading the Net Neutrality Day of Action July 12, when internet companies and advocacy groups including Alphabet Inc’s Google, Twitter Inc. and the American Civil Liberties Union protested Pai’s proposal.