Later today, the Federal Communications Commission will hold a public hearing on one of the most controversial topics it has ever weighed in on: ‘net neutrality.”
“The Commission will consider a declaratory ruling, report and order that will restore Internet freedom by returning broadband Internet access service to its prior classification as an information service, and reinstate the private mobile service classification of mobile broadband Internet access service,” a preview of the agenda says. “The item also will eliminate the Commission’s vague and expansive Internet Conduct Standard, along with the bright-line rules. Additionally, it will modify the transparency rule to promote additional transparency, while eliminating burdensome and unnecessary requirements.”
The following is from an agency fact sheet also issued on the topic: “Over 20 years ago, President Clinton and a Republican Congress established the policy of the United States “to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet… unfettered by Federal or State regulation.” For decades, Commission policies encouraged broadband deployment and the development of the Internet. That ended two years ago. In 2015, the Commission imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulation on Internet service providers (ISPs). Since then, broadband investment has fallen for two years in a row—the first time that that’s happened outside a recession in the Internet era. And new services have been delayed or scuttled by a regulatory environment that stifles innovation.
The proposed order “would return to the bipartisan consensus on light- touch regulation, ending utility-style regulation of the Internet,” restore the classification of broadband Internet access service as an “information service,” and reinstate the private mobile service classification of mobile broadband Internet access service.
Meanwhile, controversy continues to intensify regarding “fake” comments submitted during a public comment process initiated by the FCC.
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel this week called on the FCC to fully cooperate with the former’s investigation, after the FCC Inspector General’s office reversed course and signaled its intent today to assist with an inquiry into one million fake comments submitted during the net neutrality comment process.
Schneiderman and Rosenworcel also called for the FCC’s planned Dec. 14 vote on net neutrality to be halted while these fake comments are investigated.
“Federal law guarantees every American a voice in shaping our policies. But my office’s investigation found that this process was deeply corrupted – with one million comments that may have been submitted using real people’s stolen identities,” Schneiderman said. “For months the FCC refused to help us get to the bottom of what happened. That’s why we asked New Yorkers to help – and in the last few days alone, thousands of Americans and hundreds of New Yorkers have reported that their identities were misused. Finally, just this morning, the FCC Inspector General’s office indicated that it may help. We’re going to hold them to that – and, in the meantime, it’s vital that the FCC delay the vote until we know what happened.”
“Our Internet economy is the envy of the world because it is open to all. That is why I support net neutrality. But the FCC is on course to eliminate net neutrality guided by a record corrupted by hundreds of thousands of filings with stolen identities, close to half a million comments from Russian e-mail addresses, and an alleged distributed denial of service attack,” said FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel said. “This is unacceptable. The integrity of the public record matters. The FCC needs to get to the bottom of this mess. No vote should take place until a responsible investigation is complete.”
In a November open letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Attorney General Schneiderman announced that his office has – for six months – been investigating the submission of enormous numbers of fake comments on the possible repeal of neutrality rules, which used real Americans’ identities. An updated analysis by the Attorney General’s office found that approximately one million of these comments may have misused the real names and addresses of Americans – including tens of thousands of New Yorkers.
Prior to releasing the open letter, the Attorney General’s office had contacted the FCC and its top officials at least nine times to request assistance in its investigation. The FCC and the FCC Inspector General’s office had been unwilling to provide records necessary to investigate who may be behind the misused identities, a departure from past practice, where the FCC has cooperated with the Attorney General’s office on confidential investigations into practices that harmed New Yorkers and residents of other states. However, earlier today, the FCC’s Inspector General’s office reversed course, indicating that it will assist with the Attorney General’s investigation.
Last week, Schneiderman launched a new webpage for New Yorkers to check whether their identities were wrongfully used without their consent. In the last five days alone, over 3,200 people have reported misused identities to the Attorney General’s office, including nearly 350 New Yorkers from across the state.
As for Senate Democrats, they are not sitting idly by.
"We write to urge you to abandon your reckless plan to radically alter the free and open Internet as we know it,” a Dec. 12 letter to FCC Chair Ajit Pai says. ““By rolling back the FCC’s current prohibitions against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, the Draft Order could lead to a tiered and compartmentalized internet, and whose characteristic openness is limited to those students, schools, and institutions who can afford it.”
The letter was spearheaded by Sen. Patty Murray, (D-Wash.) and signed by more than 30 of her Senate colleagues.