FCC chairman Pai admits to Russian interference during the public comment period on net neutrality

Posted: , by Alan Friedman Alan Friedman

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FCC chairman Pai admits to Russian interference during the public comment period on net neutrality
Back in September, the New York Times filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against the FCC. The newspaper was seeking documents that would allegedly show how the Russians flooded the FCC website with fake responses during the period when the agency requested public comments on its plan to repeal net neutrality. The FCC refused to hand over the information sought by the newspaper, leading to the suit.

For those unfamiliar with net neutrality, the Obama-era rules were designed to prevent content streamers from paying ISPs and wireless providers for a faster connection to the public. In other words, net neutrality makes sure that all content streams are treated the same.

By the time Trump appointee Ajit Pai became FCC chairman, the balance of power in the agency swung to the right from the left and the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality. The agency sought comments from the public and a record 21 million letters were received. 90% of them were reportedly form letters that all said the same thing, and millions of other comments were deemed to be suspicious. According to a report published on Wednesday, after eliminating the comments believed to have come from Russian and other illegitimate sources, nearly 100% of the public comments were in favor of keeping net neutrality. Nonetheless, the rules were removed from the FCC books in June.

The FCC continues to refuse to hand over the pertinent documents to the Times, refusing again to do so as recently as last week. In a statement, Jessica Rosenworcel, the only Democrat on the FCC, wondered what the FCC is hiding.


Pai's comments are also on the record. He did say that it is a fact that 500,000 comments submitted to the FCC came from Russian email addresses, along with the 8 million aforementioned comments that came from email domains related to FakeMailGenerator.com. But Pai says that the Russian comments and those from fake email domains all support net neutrality. That claim may or may not be true. Instead of questioning how so many phony form letters and emails ended up accepted by the FCC, his statement talks about Commissioner Rosenworcel's "now-standard overheated rhetoric about net neutrality."

But Commissioner Rosenworcel might have a valid point. What is the FCC hiding? If Chairman Pai's statement about how the Russian emails and other suspicious comments support net neutrality was the truth, you'd think he'd be the first to give the Times access to the documents that they seek.

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