Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Chairman (FCC) revealed that it was a “fact” that Russia interfered with the public comments submitted to the FCC ahead of the contentious 2017 vote on net neutrality.
Pai’s comments appear to stand in contrast to what the FCC said in a court filing a few weeks ago when it asserted that it was unconvinced Russian bots, residents, or government officials filed comments in the FCC comment system.
The comments came in response to a lawsuit filed by the New York Times in which the newspaper requested access to the IP addresses and server logs of those who submitted comments during the FCC’s net neutrality docket ahead of the 2017 vote, the Daily Dot reported.
Any changes to FCC rules are subject to a “notice and comment” process whereby the public has the opportunity to submit comments on proposed FCC rule changes. During the docket last year, the FCC reportedly received more than 23 million comments. However, around 8 million came from fraudulent email addresses.
Pai’s comments reveal that in addition to the fraudulent comments originating from servers associated with FakeMailGenerator.com, there were a “half-million comments submitted from Russian e-mail addresses”.
Questions over the possibility of Russian interference in the FCC’s rule-amendment process emerged in August 2017 after Emprata released a study concluding Russian-linked accounts had compromised 25% of the public comments submitted to the FCC.
Subsequent studies have cast further doubt over the legitimacy of the process. A Pew study later found that only 6% of the comments had a unique message, indicating that 94% of the FCC comments were generated by bots.
In his statement, Pai attempted to justify the FCC’s decision not to release the information surrounding the public comments to the New York Times. He asserted that the information must be kept private to help defend against cyber attacks.
However, this did not satisfy FCC commissioner, Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel. In her statement, also attached to the memorandum, she said, “something here is rotten— and it’s time for the FCC to come clean”.
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Oliver is a UK-born freelance writer and journalist based in Boston. He is a self-confessed politics junkie with a passion for foreign and environmental policy. His work has been featured on Open Democracy, International Policy Digest, and the London Economic. He was a regular contributor for ASEAN Today.