FCC reportedly plans comment system overhaul after net neutrality debacle

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is reportedly proposing an overhaul of the agency’s online comment system.

Alex Wong / Techhnews

The Federal Communications Commission is reportedly mulling changes to its online comment system after the public comment period on net neutrality prompted 22 million fake submissions.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has informed two senators that he’ll propose rebuilding and re-engineering the commission’s electronic comment system “to institute appropriate safeguards against abusive conduct,” The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Pai told Sens. Patrick J. Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, in a July 6 letter he had asked Congress for permission to divert funds toward overhauling the system, the newspaper reported. The senators say they were among millions of Americans who were impersonated in public comments submitted for the commission’s consideration about net neutrality.

The overhaul is being considered after revelations that 2 million of the 22 million comments submitted used stolen identities, some for people who were dead, including actress Patty Duke, who died in 2016. Nearly 8 million comments used email domains associated with FakeMailGenerator.com. About half a million were sent from Russian email addresses.

“It is troubling that some bad actors submitted comments using false names,” Pai said in the letter, according to the Journal. “Indeed, like you, comments were submitted in my name and my wife’s name that reflect viewpoints we do not hold.”

The debacle highlighted some of the shortcomings in developing public policy in the digital age where hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of comments can be filed with the click of a button and flood a docket, and any name can be used to submit a comment.

The federal Government Accountability Office and the New York State Attorney General’s office have launched investigations. Congressional Democrats have also asked the FCC for answers.

The FCC and representatives for Sens. Toomey and Merkley didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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