The House Energy & Commerce Committee Democrats Tuesday (Feb. 13) pressed FCC chair Ajit Pai for some answers on how the FCC used the 22 million comments in the network neutrality docket to make its decision on rolling back regulations.
The comment docket was flooded with comments from Russia and bot-driven input. The FCC also said it was the subject of distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks that impeded the filing of comments and occurred not lot long after John Oliver, host of HBO's Last Week Tonight, called for a flood of pro-network neutrality comments.
All two dozen of the committee's Democrats said the FCC's Dec. 14, 2017, order eliminating the rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization provided "scant" details about what went into that decision, including not citing any consumer complaints while citing filings from several companies.
"In order to restore public confidence in the integrity of the process and give the American people a better understanding of how the FCC analyzed the comments filed in this proceeding, we request that you provide us information on how the agency reviewed the public comments," they wrote.
The Democrats want answers to the following questions:
"The FCC has never handled a docket of this size before or one with so many fraudulent filings. What public process did the Commission conduct to determine how to handle these novel issues? How did the Commission generate any guidelines it provided to staff working on this proceeding?
"The Order does not cite a single consumer comment. How many consumer comments were filed in the record?
"Chairman Pai has stated that comments filed from Russian email addresses were in favor of net neutrality. Did the Commission conduct an independent analysis to support this determination?
"The FCC has refused to work with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate fraudulent use of Americans’ identities in the record. Please explain why the FCC decided not to cooperate with this criminal investigation.
"How did the FCC determine whether comments were filed by the entity with whom the comments were associated?
"The Order states that the Commission did not rely on comments filed under fake' names. How did the Commission determine which filings used fake names?
"Did FCC staff review every comment filed in the docket? How many staff hours did the Commission devote to reviewing the record?"
The FCC has pointed out that it is not the volume of comments that will determine how it rules, but only the content of the relevant comments. The only issue would be whether the volume of fake comments drowned out any of those relevant comments, given that there were over 22 million to consider.
The chairman's office has also dismissed the New York AG investigation as an effort by supporters of the Obama-era regs to preserve them. New York is among the states filing suit against the reg rollback.
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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.