Senators, prosecutor cite fake comments on internet rules

Twenty-seven U.S. senators and New York's attorney general asked federal regulators Monday to delay a vote on scrapping open internet rules amid concerns the public comment docket is filled with fake comments.

Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said an unprecedented 23 million comments were submitted to the Federal Communications Commission about net neutrality. His office suspects as many as a million of those are linked to stolen identities.

The senators, led by Democrat Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressing concern over reports that bots filed hundreds of thousands of comments.

The FCC is set to vote Dec. 14 whether to scrap Obama-era rules around open internet access that prevent phone and cable companies from favoring certain websites and apps.

Schneiderman said the vote should be delayed while comments are investigated and called on the FCC to provide records needed for the probe.

An FCC spokesperson said the comment controversy was a last-ditch effort to thwart rollback of the rules, which many Republican officials say hurt investment in internet infrastructure and represent too much government involvement in business.

A data firm backed by a telecom industry group found in August that the overwhelming majority of about 1.8 million comments to the FCC favored net neutrality, compared with 24,000 who supported its repeal. Schneiderman said it's a more "mixed bag" now.

The FCC's commenting system is not like an election. If one side of an issue garners a greater number of positive comments, that doesn't mean it automatically becomes a federal rule.

"The raw number is not as important as the substantive comments that are in the record," Pai said a July FCC meeting. "We want to weigh all comments and make sure that we take a full view of the record and again make the appropriate judgment based on those facts and the law as it applies."

Schneiderman said there are anecdotal reports of comments coming from dead people, children, fictional characters and Russian email addresses as well as from people whose names were used without their permission. He set up a website for people to check and report whether their name was improperly used for commenting.


AP Technology Writer Tali Arbel contributed to this report from New York.