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The FCC's broken commentary system affects the entire government.






Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is preparing to testify on May 7 before the Sub-Committee on Financial Services and Government on Capitol Hill.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

When the chairman, Ajit Pai, rethought the network of the Federal Communications Commission left neutrality in 201

7, he made his agenda clear: he wanted a "weed hunter" to be the open internet of the rules Bring Obama era.

The rules he wanted to upset were formulated in 2015 in a lawsuit that garnered a record-breaking number of public commentaries – over 4 million, more than any other government inquiry in US history. The vast majority of them advocated net neutrality rules to prevent ISPs from blocking, slowing down, or speeding access to Web sites or landing pages to reach users faster. However, despite public support for the relatively new rules, Pai's attempt to lift net neutrality was ultimately successful in 2017. And it was not surprising that it broke the record for public participation in regulation again – but this time the process seemed to be tarnished by inadequacy. A new Buzzfeed report makes it look even more sketchy. This underscores how vulnerable the Federal Government's commenting process is – and what the risk is if it is not resolved.

If a federal regulator wants to change its rules or create new policies, it usually needs to go through a "hint and comment" process that asks the public to weigh the impact of the rule change. Thousands of rules are issued each year, usually containing between a few dozen and a few thousand comments. It is very, very rare that the notification and commenting process attracts millions of responses, let alone 22 million comments, as the efforts to lift net neutrality rules in 2017 have done.

When the comments were received in the second half, it quickly became clear that something was wrong. Just over a week after the comment period began, John Oliver dedicated a 20-minute excerpt of his HBO show to the topic, asking users to voice their voices, as he put it, "Cable Company Fucking." to prevent. The comments flooded the FCC so much that the agency's electronic filing system was shut down, a study by the FCC Inspector General found when investigating the matter. However, when the system failed initially, Pai falsely informed Congress that it was a mysterious cyberattack. At the end of May, Vice noted that comments had been published in favor of repealing the FCC under the name of the deceased. Further research revealed that comments to lift net neutrality also came from stolen identities, including those from legislators such as the Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Arizona MP Ruben Gallego, who made false comments on their behalf to lift net neutrality , Bots have posted comments. Hundreds of thousands of comments came from Russian e-mail addresses. Despite these shortcomings, more than 99 percent of organic commentary – that is, the evidence suggests that they are from actual persons and not written in advance – has been found to preserve net neutrality.

According to a recent Buzzfeed investigation, it now appears that more than a million of the suspicious comments submitted to the FCC were the result of a dodgy external company hired by political campaigns that used people's information that had been stolen from a data breach.

With so many Snafus, it's clear that the online commentary system is easily exploitable in the FCC and, most likely, in other public places as well, and is probably so broken that it does more harm than good. Even if it seems like an arcane matter, it's a big problem. When it comes to drafting new federal guidelines, the notification and commenting process may be the only direct way for a member of the public to participate in federal decisions. Regulators are required by law to consider American opinions. Although policymakers can not read every comment when millions are published, comments can be counted to facilitate the design of policy proposals. Suppose, what happened in 2014, when the FCC first proposed new rules for net neutrality. At that time, under the Obama era FCC, the initial proposal would have allowed Internet service providers to offer websites to reach users faster, but forbid any blocking of websites. This would have created a two-tier Internet. However, the public commented on the comments. After immense pressure, the FCC revised the rules to prevent any paid prioritization – and this version of the rules was finally passed by the end of the year. In 2004, Prometheus Radio Project, a nonprofit organization that I used to work in earlier years, sued the FCC even after failing to take account of public opinion through its comment process when drafting new rules on media ownership. The agency was eventually commissioned to hold six public hearings across the country to better understand the impact of its rules on different communities across the country.

It is not surprising that the FCC's commentary process has become a mess. Currently, no CAPTCHA system encourages you to prove that you are a person when posting a comment. Writing a web application to automatically post comments is incredibly easy. Pai even refused to delete fraudulent comments on the net neutrality list when they were asked to do so by victims of identity theft. Although it was reported more than a year ago that the agency plans to revise its commentary system, it is not clear if something was actually done. On Thursday, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called on the FCC to remain "shameful" about its broken commentary system.

This is not just a problem for the FCC. The Department of Labor has submitted fraudulent statements, as have the Office of Financial Consumer Protection, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and others. A Wall Street Journal investigation revealed thousands of fraudulent comments on agency websites. This problem is endemic and will not be resolved.

The answer to this mess does not stop the commenting process. We need ways and means to take action beyond election day that affects our lives, especially when decisions are taken by unelected representatives of regulators. The answer is to fix the broken system quickly. This requires understanding how to submit false comments and working with technologists, consumer representatives, and other stakeholders to find ways to abuse the system and build a better system. A new system may require posters that use two-factor authentication. Or maybe the authorities should set up a detection system to sort out duplicates. When the public is asked to participate online, there will always be actors trying to mess it up. But democracy is chaotic . And that requires constant work to protect it.


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