FCC Sued For Ignoring FOIA Request Investigating Fraudulent Net Neutrality Comments

from the ignore-a-problem-and-it-goes-away,-right? dept

For months now we’ve noted how somebody is intentionally filling the FCC’s net neutrality comment proceeding with bot-generated bogus comments supporting the agency’s plan to kill net neutrality protections. Despite these fake comments being easily identifiable, the FCC has made it abundantly clear it intends to do absolutely nothing about it. Similarly, the FCC has told me it refuses to do anything about the fact that someone is using my name to file comments like this one falsely claiming I support killing net neutrality rules (you may have noticed I don’t).

While nobody has identified who is polluting the FCC comment system with fake support, it should be fairly obvious who this effort benefits. By undermining the legitimacy of the public FCC comment proceeding (the one opportunity for transparent, public dialogue on this subject), it’s easier for ISPs and the FCC to downplay the massive public opposition to killing popular net neutrality rules. After all, most analysis has shown that once you remove form, bot and other automated comments from the proceeding, the vast, vast majority of consumers oppose what the FCC and Trump administration are up to.

Attempts to dig deeper into this mystery haven’t gone well. Freelance writer Jason Prechtel filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on June 4 asking the FCC for data on the bogus comments, the API keys used, and how the FCC has worked to address the problem. But while the FCC acknowledged the FOIA request, it wound up giving Prechtel the runaround throughout the summer — stating on June 14 that it would be extending the deadline for responding to his request from July 3 to July 18 — before ultimately deciding to ignore his request altogether.

As a result, Prechtel has filed a lawsuit against the FCC (pdf), stating the agency is breaking the law by sitting on its hands. From a Medium post written by Prechtel explaining the suit:

“As the agency is legally obliged to respond to my request, and as the underlying questions behind my request still haven?t been answered, I have filed a lawsuit against the FCC for their refusal to conduct a reasonably timely search for the records, and have demanded the release of these records. Even now, over three months after my FOIA request, and even after I?ve filed a lawsuit, this request is still listed as ?under agency review?.

If you’re playing along at home, this is just one of several lawsuits that have been filed against the agency for its Keystone Cops-esque handling of the network neutrality proceeding to date. The FCC has been sued for obfuscating details on its meetings with major ISPs in regards to net neutrality, and also faces a lawsuit over the agency’s apparently completely fabricated DDoS attack it claimed occurred conveniently at the exact same time John Oliver told his viewers to file comments with the agency. Perhaps the more observant will notice a trend at Ajit Pai’s FCC?

Again, nobody knows who’s behind this effort to pollute the public discourse, and the FCC is making it pretty clear it doesn’t want to make it any easier to find out. Having covered the sector for twenty years, this sort of thing is well within the behavioral norms of the wide variety of “non profit,” “non-partisan” groups hired by ISPs to pee in the discourse pool. Whoever’s to blame, it’s pretty clear the FCC is playing a role in not only making it harder to understand what happened, but in undermining the value of the public comment period.

As the FCC moves to formally vote to kill the rules in a month or two, expect Ajit Pai and friends to increasingly use the dysfunction they helped cement to downplay legitimate public opposition to its plan. After that, you can expect all of this dysfunction to play a starring role in the multiple, inevitable lawsuits that will be filed against the agency in the wake of the vote. Again, how was this blistering shitshow a better idea than simply listening to the will of the public and leaving the existing, popular net neutrality rules alone?

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Comments on “FCC Sued For Ignoring FOIA Request Investigating Fraudulent Net Neutrality Comments”

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24 Comments
That One Guy says:

"If we pretend we don't hear them, maybe they'll go away long enough for us to screw them over."

But while the FCC acknowledged the FOIA request, it wound up giving Prechtel the runaround throughout the summer — stating on June 14 that it would be extending the deadline for responding to his request from July 3 to July 18 — before ultimately deciding to ignore his request altogether.

Can’t imagine what they feel they might accomplish by stonewallling such a request. I mean what could they gain by refusing to answer for a few more months?

As the FCC moves to formally vote to kill the rules in a month or two, expect Ajit Pai and friends to increasingly use the dysfunction they helped cement to downplay legitimate public opposition to its plan.

Ah yes, there we are, the mist have cleared right up.

Again, how was this blistering shitshow a better idea than simply listening to the will of the public and leaving the existing, popular net neutrality rules alone?

Depends on which perspective you’re looking at it from.

Looked at from the perspective of the general public, it’s a terrible idea and will almost certainly cause significant harm.

Looked at from the perspective of the companies involved, getting rid of the rules is an awesome idea, and paves the way for them to buy laws(that they will quite possibly literally write themselves) that will be carefully written to prohibit things they were never going to do in the first place, while carving out ‘exceptions’ large enough to drive a tank through for what they do want to do.

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

Assuming the FCC loses all of those laesuits, what happens?
The FCC is given a massive fine that gets paid by taxpayers.
The FCC administrators responsible for the decisions pay nothkng.
The telecom companiest tbaf beefit from this aren’t even involved in the lawsuits.
The gutted net neutrality rules remain in place.

Most taxpayers won’t even notice the extra penny in taxes the first result causes.
Why would government officials change anything as long as the second result remains.
There’s no downside for corporations as long as the third result is true.
As longas the last result is true, the whole thing is an exercise in buying the regulations you want.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Compel? How?

There is not a single branch of government following the law. Courts do not enforce their rulings, they just run mouth and do nothing. Prosecutors rarely go after government officials unless it is a political act.

the entire system is corrupt as fuck from the bottom up. not even the voters are without this same corruption. most of them are more than okay with government officials lying, cheating, and stealing if it means they get what they want.

We are truly reaping what we have sown!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The FCC is acting as if it is the controlled by the ISPs

You don’t need to go that far, from what I read in a comment from a previous article(though it’s possible I could have misread the details) the method used to spam the comments was one that would have been trivial for them to not only spot but shut down, since it used something on the FCC’s end that they can control.

Given that, it’s entirely possible that another party is involved, and the FCC is ‘only’ to blame for knowingly turning a blind eye to it, which isn’t really any better as I see it.

graphicequaliser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The FCC is acting as if it is the controlled by the ISPs

Seeing as the FCC met with ISPs secretly, it could be one of those ISPs has been tasked with spamming the comments. It all strikes me as very clandestine, and that the whole matter should have been handled in a public sphere such that comments are immediately visible to the internet and moderators are publicly appointed.

JBA says:

Re: The FCC is our representative

Interesting. I was under the impressive less than 50% of the voters chose the current administration, accounting for less than 25% of the total eligible voting populous, AND the FCC are appointed positions, meaning NO ONE “asked for” their representation except for the aforementioned administration that was not a majority choice.

So much for that logic…

stderric (profile) says:

Re: Who has a lawyer

Who has the money To SUE every time…

Hmm… well, collectively, we citizens do; perhaps the government could sue the government using taxpayer money, and pay the legal expenses and the awards using money generated by raising taxes. Of course, it’d save time & effort if the government just settled with itself before trial.

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