FCC Chairman submits plan to end net neutrality; New York AG claims agency is hindering probe

The Federal Communications Commission chairman on Tuesday announced a draft of his plan to dismantle net neutrality rules that ensure a free and open internet, prompting outcries from the digital rights community, as well as from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who claims the FCC is impeding an investigation into fraudulent comments left on the agency's website.

The elimination of net neutrality regulations would pave the way for telecommunication/ISP companies to charge a premium for high-quality streaming, charge for or block access to certain web content, and intentionally reduce the speed of some websites over others -- as long as they are transparent about their actions.

For now, only the five FCC commissions have access to the plan, but Chairman Ajit Pai said in a press release that it would be released to the public more than three weeks prior to the regulatory body's official Dec. 14 vote. The FCC is expected to approve the measure.

In the release, Pai argues that the internet thrived without federal net neutrality regulations for two decades, until former President Barack Obama imposed new restrictions in 2015. "That decision was a mistake. It's depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation," claims Pai, a former former Verizon lawyer.

Meanwhile, New York AG Schneiderman, an advocate of strong net neutrality rules, wrote an open letter on Medium, accusing the FCC of stymieing his office's investigation into an alleged scheme to submit fake online comments to the FCC in order to corrupt the process with fake opinions. While of the fake comments used made-up names and addresses, hundreds of thousands actually stole the identities of real Americans, according to Schneidermann.

"Specifically, for six months my office has been investigating who perpetrated a massive scheme to corrupt the FCC's notice and comment process through the misuse of enormous numbers of real New Yorkers' and other Americans' identities. Such conduct likely violates state law, yet the FCC has refused multiple requests for crucial evidence in its sole possession that is vital to permit that law enforcement investigation to proceed," Schneidermann states in the document.

Back in June, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Committee sent a letter to the FBI and Department of Justice asking federal agencies to look into a string of fake anti-net-neutrality comments submitted into the FCC docket.

And last August, Gizmodo published a story refuting the FCC's claims that it was a series of DDoS attacks that caused a crippling surge in traffic on its website last May, as opposed to pro-net neutrality protesters who at that very moment were flooding the site with complaints, following an HBO segment by comedian John Oliver.

Bradley Barth

As director of multimedia content strategy at CyberRisk Alliance, Bradley Barth develops content for online conferences, webcasts, podcasts video/multimedia projects — often serving as moderator or host. For nearly six years, he wrote and reported for SC Media as deputy editor and, before that, senior reporter. He was previously a program executive with the tech-focused PR firm Voxus. Past journalistic experience includes stints as business editor at Executive Technology, a staff writer at New York Sportscene and a freelance journalist covering travel and entertainment. In his spare time, Bradley also writes screenplays.

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