Monday, January 22, 2018

Pai Vs. Schneiderman

This is probably the first scandal of it's kind at the FCC. According to the Office of the Attorney General of New York As many as 2 million comments” on the US Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules were faked. [SOURCE]  Why this is not bigger news... I can only posit that it is overshadowed by the comically villainous move by Ajit Pai to repeal in the first place.

I have often said that for all it's flaws, the FCC is the most high-functioning agency in the US government.  Since June of 1946 The FCC is legally obligated to follow all the guidelines set down by the Administrative Procedures Act; (APA), Pub.L. 79–404, 60 Stat. 237. So an important and mandated part of any FCC rule-making procedure is gathering public comments. According to the agency itself "Gathering and analyzing comments from the public is an important part of the Federal Communications Commission's rulemaking process. The FCC considers the public's input when developing rules and policies." [SOURCE] These fake comments derail that process.

For 72 years the FCC has listened to consumers and the industry it governs in order that it be a more effective regulatory agency. On November 29th, 2017 it was revealed that in that process to abandon net neutrality, more 10 million public comments were likely faked. That's more than the entire population of North Carolina. The PEW Research Center reported some damning analysis.
  • 57% of comments used temporary or duplicate email addresses
  • Seven repeated comments accounted for 38% of all submissions
  • 94% of comments were submitted multiple times
  • Over 75,000 comments were submitted simultaneously
  • Over 25,000 instances of fake names
  • 1.4 million repeated email addresses
  • 8 Million temporary/fake email addresses
  • Just 5 comments were submitted more than 800,000 times each
A separate investigation carried out by data scientist Jeff Kao states that the FCC received at least 1.3 million phony pro-repeal comments. [SOURCE]The sheer volume of fake comments can only have come from organized bot campaigns. This was a high volume automated astroturf attack. At one point the volume of fake comments was so high, the FCC claimed it was under a DDOS attack. [SOURCE]

Only 6% of comments were unique out of the 21.7 million total. Only these comments appear to be "organic" in other words... real. That is about 126,000 comments. Kao estimates that 99.7% of those are pro Net Neutrality. Pai ignored the situation and the repeal was completed despite a deluge of public and industry criticism that has not abated. It seems certain that he is aware, and highly probable that he is it's intended beneficiary. A number of FoIA requests could determine if he is also their architect.

That act of hubris has been followed by vigorous journalistic inquiries. Writer Jason Prechtel filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request on June 4th asking the FCC for data related to bulk comment uploads. The FCC acknowledged receiving the FoIA request, but it did not approve or deny the request despite being legally obligated to do so... Even today it's listed as Under Review. SOURCE Another journalist, Kevin Collier filed a lawsuit against the FCC, alleging that the commission failed to comply with FoIA requests about the alleged DDoS attack. A nonprofit named American Oversight filed a FoIA request for all records related to communications regarding net neutrality between ISPs and Chairman Ajit Pai. None of these have been answered.

But the story now is FCC Chairman Pai Vs. NY Attorney General Schneiderman. The Attorney General "slammed" the FCC for stonewalling the investigation. [SOURCE] But in defiance of the law, and even the inquiries of other agencies... the Pai seems determined to click undo on half a century of transparency. This sets up a fight that will be "yuge" topic in the midterm elections.