One identically-worded comment opposing net neutrality rules has been submitted to the Federal Communications Commission's web site 440,000 times, according to a new data analysis.
The comment, which appears to have been submitted falsely using the names of real people drawn from hacked emails lists, comprised almost 40% of all of the comments submitted to the FCC on the hot button topic, data scientist Jeffrey Fossett, who analyzed the data, concluded.
Excluding the spammed comment, an estimated 97% of the nearly 700,000 remaining filings supported the FCC's 2015 net neutrality rules, which forbid Internet service providers from blocking, slowing, or otherwise discriminating against web sites and online services. Even including the spammed comment, 59% of all 1.1 million comments still favored net neutrality, Fossett said on his blog.
The FCC passed the strong net neutrality rules in 2015 under chairman Tom Wheeler, who was appointed by President Barack Obama. But big Internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast have opposed the rules, which they say interfere with their business and deter investment. Internet companies and cyber rights groups supported the rules, saying they protect innovation and free speech online.
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Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by President Donald Trump to head the agency in January, has been a steady opponent of the current rules and its working to reverse them.
Fossett also sought to track down the source of the names used in the spammed comments. He compared the names used on a random sample of 1,000 filings and found that almost 76% could be found in online lists of known hacked emails. Most (about two-thirds) were from a single list stolen from River City Media.
The flood of seemingly bogus comments arrived at the FCC after comedian John Oliver asked viewers of his HBO show Last Week Tonight to write to the FCC in favor of the current net neutrality rules.
Many of the non-identical comments submitted to the FCC used phrases suggested by Oliver, such as "i support strong net neutrality backed by title 2 oversight of isps," a phrase Fossett found in 2% of all comments.