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WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote later this month on whether to repeal regulations that aim to ensure that all websites, large and small, are treated equally by Internet providers.

But the attorney general of New York and a Democratic commissioner at the FCC say the agency should delay the vote on Net neutrality. They are part of a mounting number of critics who have seized on what they say are millions of fake or automated comments submitted to the agency that have corrupted the policymaking process.

Public comments play an important role at the FCC, which typically solicits feedback from the public before it votes to make significant policy changes. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said at a news conference Monday that widespread irregularities tied to Net neutrality feedback, including at least 1 million phony comments, have tainted the public commenting process.

The allegations of abuse are buttressing a campaign by online activists and government officials who oppose the FCC's plan to dismantle Net neutrality rules.

In a review of FCC comments, Schneiderman's office found that at least 1 million submissions may have impersonated Americans, including as many as 50,000 New York residents -- a potential violation of state law. Millions more comments were likely submitted under the names of nonexistent people, he said.

Still, according to Schneiderman, the FCC has refused to provide help to determine who may be responsible for the alleged fake commenting. Schneiderman said the inspector general's office of the FCC didn't offer its help until Monday morning, ahead of the news conference.

Schneiderman called for a federal investigation and for the FCC to push back its planned vote to strip Net neutrality rules. "They just have to stop this vote," Schneiderman said. "You cannot conduct a legitimate vote on a rulemaking proceeding if you have a record that is in shambles, as this one is."

Tina Pelkey, a spokesman for the FCC, responded in a statement Monday: "At today's news conference, they didn't identify a single comment relied upon in the draft order as being questionable. This is an attempt by people who want to keep the Obama Administration's heavy-handed internet regulations to delay the vote because they realize that their effort to defeat the plan to restore Internet freedom has stalled."

Some consumers have complained to the FCC that their own names or addresses have been used without their permission to submit comments that they did not support. Opponents of the FCC's plan have also pointed to the strange appearance of comments submitted by people who are deceased.

Last week, Schneiderman's office created a website for people to check whether their identities had been used to submit FCC comments. His office has received more than 3,000 responses so far, he said. Schneiderman highlighted three cases of stolen identity: a deceased woman; a 13-year-old girl; and a member of Schneiderman's own staff, whose name and childhood address were used without her permission.

"It is clear that our process for serving the public interest is broken," Rosenworcel said at the news conference, as she urged her colleagues to delay the vote until an investigation is completed. "The integrity of our public record is at stake, and the future of the Internet depends on it."

Last month, FCC spokesman Brian Hart said the agency lacks the resources to examine every comment. He said comments submitted in support of Net neutrality were likely tied to automated accounts. He said 7.5 million comments filed in favor of the regulations that appeared to come from 45,000 distinct email addresses were "all generated by a single fake email generator website." In addition, according to Hart, 400,000 comments backing the rules appeared to originate from a Russian mailing address.

"The most suspicious activity has been by those supporting Internet regulation," Hart said.

Business on 12/05/2017

Print Headline: Delay Net vote, 2 officials urge FCC

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