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?