FCC Settles Net Neutrality Docket Suit

The FCC has agreed to settle with a journalist over what he alleged the FCC's lack of responsiveness to a FOIA request related to the net neutrality comment docket, according to a court filing on the settlement. It paid attorneys fees and costs, but did not concede the allegation.

The FCC paid $43,000 (($43,077.80 for "attorneys fees and costs" to be exact) to journalist Jason Prechtel, who sued over the FCC's refusal to turn over documents sought in a 2017 FOIA request, according to Gizmodo.

The FCC allegedly did not provide the information within the prescribed time frame, though ultimately that information--obtained from another agency--led to a Gizmodo story, co-authored by Prechtel, about the docket and the millions of fake comments submitted in the debate over rolling back net neutrality regs.

The FCC conceded no liability, which is typical of such settlements. An FCC spokesperson had no comment.

The FCC's net neutrality comment docket has been a flashpoint for net neutrality activists and the subject of outside investigations, including by the New York State Attorney General and FBI.

Related: Rep. Pallone Says FBI Investigating FCC Comment Docket

Pai has conceded there were opportunities for mischief in the docket—which ultimately manifested itself in bogus comments, including ones from a Russian address—but he signaled that was the price of erring on the side of inclusiveness.. But just how many were filed, and what the FCC's procedures for at least trying to verify their veracity, became an ongoing dialog, though some Dems would say monologue, with the FCC in the run-up to the FCC's December 2017 vote to roll back net neutrality regs.

In a letter to the Hill over a year ago, Pai explained that to enable the filing of bulk comments, the FCC system in 2016 was reconfigured to allow automated submissions, and that while it uses commercially available tools to protect the system from cyber attacks, it "is fundamentally an open, public-facing system, which limits our ability to shut down inappropriate bots accessing [it]."

Pai also said back in March that the FCC does not have policies or procedures for determining the nationalities of commenters or whether the address of the comment is outside the U.S., save for a box to check that is optional.

There is also no limit to the number of comments that can be filed, other than a size limit of 25 MB for each comment, and five files per submission, including attachments.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.