New York AG Casts Wide Net In Probe Of Fake Net Neutrality Comments

New York officials have broadened their inquiry into fake comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission when it was considering whether to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality rules.

Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood reportedly sent subpoenas to more than 12 organizations, including groups funded by the broadband industry, which opposed the net neutrality rules, as well as advocacy groups that supported net neutrality. The subpoenas were first reported late Tuesday by The New York Times.

Underwood confirmed the investigation Tuesday. “The FCC’s public comment process .. was corrupted by millions of fake comments -- including as many as 9.53 million that stole the identities of real people,” she tweeted. “We’ll get to the bottom of what happened.”

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The probe stems from the FCC's decision to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality rules, which prohibited broadband providers from blocking or throttling traffic and from charging higher fees for fast-lane service. Last April, Chairman Ajit Pai proposed revoking those rules. His proposal drew a record-breaking 22 million comments, but many of those were submitted under fake names, or by Russian bots. While the precise number of fake comments is unclear, around 450,000 came from Russian email addresses.

In addition, the vast majority of the 22 million comments used canned language that had been posted online, or offered by organizations like pro-neutrality advocacy groups Fight for the Future, Demand Progress and Free Press, and the anti-regulatory group Taxpayers Protection Alliance, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

Former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched a probe of the fake comments late last year, but the FCC refused to cooperate. The New York Times Co. separately sued the FCC for more information about possible Russian meddling in the proceeding.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who supported the former net neutrality rules, said on Twitter it was “time to figure out what really happened” with the fake comments. “The @FCC #NetNeutrality docket was riddled with fraud,” she posted. “Now the @NewYorkStateAG is sending subpoenas to get to the bottom of this mess. It's time to figure out what really happened.”

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