Dismantling Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules Set to Start, But Campaigners Call for Investigation into Fraud Allegations

net neutrality fcc EFF pai
A pro-net neutrality internet activist attends a rally in the neighborhood where U.S. President Barack Obama attended a fundraiser in Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 23, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to start dismantling Obama-era net neutrality rules Thursday, but internet rights campaigners are calling for an investigation into fraud allegations before the commission moves forward.

Of the more than 2 million comments filed to the FCC, researchers claim that hundreds of thousands originate from bots spamming the regulator's website. Three separate analyzes detected automated comments with similar wording that supported the deregulation, compared to the variation in those that support net neutrality, the principle that all data on the internet is treated equally by internet service providers.

"Someone has gone out of their way to make these seem like real submissions," Chris Sinchok, who researched the data, said in a blog post. His conclusions were backed by analysis from a graduate student at Harvard, and another at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Internet rights group Fight for the Future has called on the FCC and state Attorney Generals to investigate the potential fraud. The group created an online tool to help internet users determine whether their name and address were used to file a comment without their permission.

Separate reports by technology news websites ZDNet and The Verge detail incidents in which people who allegedly commented denied posting at all.

"The FCC is refusing to release proof of an alleged…attack that silenced voices in support of…net neutrality protections, and now there is significant evidence that a person or organization has been using stolen names and addresses to fraudulently file comments opposing net neutrality," Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement.

"If this FCC has any legitimacy, it simply cannot move forward until an investigation has been conducted… State Attorneys General should immediate investigate whether people in their state were affected by this, and the FCC should immediately release any and all information that it has about who is submitting these fake comments," Greer added.

As the FCC begins its formal efforts to roll back the net neutrality rules, a counter-demonstration has been organized outside the FCC's headquarters in Washington.

"People everywhere depend on the open internet, but Chairman Pai [Chairman of the FCC] refuses to listen to the voices of the millions of people his agency is supposed to serve," said Free Press Field Director Mary Alice Crim, who is taking part in the demonstration.

"Pai wants to continue the Trump administration's assault on free speech and political dissent, and hand over control of the internet to his corporate cronies at AT&T, Comcast and Verizon," she said.