Last week, the FCC voted to repeal Obama-era net neutrality regulations governing a free and open internet. The decision was determined by five unelected officials voting on party lines. The FCC held no public hearings in advance of the vote and the commission ignored the millions of comments submitted to its website, many of which were fraudulent and came from Russian email addresses. Several state attorney generals asked the FCC to delay its vote until the fraudulent comments could be investigated, but the FCC’s Trump-appointed chairman, Ajit Pai, rejected their calls.
Some fraudulent comments were attributed people no longer living, such as the late mother of actor Sean Astin. Others stole the identity of net neutrality advocates, such as Democratic senator Jeff Merkley. Even former president Barack Obama, whose administration enacted net neutrality, saw his identity used to register an anti-net neutrality complaint.
As The Washington Post notes, any new regulation issued by the FCC must be supported by analysis and a call for public feedback, as per the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946. The sheer volume of fraudulent comments received in response to the FCC’s dismantling of net neutrality led an FCC Commissioner, members of Congress, and a number of state attorneys general to call for a postponement of the vote.
“You cannot conduct a legitimate vote on a rule-making proceeding if you have a record that is in shambles as this one is,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, argued prior to the FCC’s vote last week.
The FCC’s decision to move forward with the vote will likely result in a series of lawsuit pertaining to identity theft and its disregard of the public process. “By casting doubt on the integrity of the comments, FCC critics are arguing that the decision-making process had been tampered with in ways that ought to invalidate the agency’s policy,” The Washington Post explains.
Schneiderman has already announced his intention to file a multi-state lawsuit against the FCC. As of publication, more than 15 other states have pledged to join the suit.