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US Senators call for delay to net neutrality repeal vote

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A group of net neutrality supporters in Congress have requested in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that the upcoming vote to repeal net neutrality legislation must be delayed, due to strong evidence of fraud in the public consultation on the issue.

Net neutrality is the principle that all information on the web is treated equally; under this principle, internet service providers do not prioritise or slow down traffic from specific websites.

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, is in the process of repealing legislation laid down under former President Barack Obama to enshrine net neutrality into law. A vote to scrap the legislation is due to be held on December 14.

Pai's repeal of net neutrality legislation has proved highly controversial, and provoked a major internet-based "day of action" in July.

A group of 28 Democratic Senators, led by Maggie Hassan and including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer, have written to Pai to demand that this vote is delayed due to evidence of widespread fraud during the public consultation on this issue.

 “A free and open internet is vital to ensuring a level playing field online, and we believe that your proposed action may be based on an incomplete understanding of the public record in this proceeding. In fact, there is good reason to believe that the record may be replete with fake or fraudulent comments, suggesting that your proposal is fundamentally flawed,” the letter said.

“Without additional information about the alleged anomalies surrounding the public record, the FCC cannot conduct a thorough and fair evaluation of the public’s views on this topic, and should not move forward with a vote on December 14, 2017.”

The letter pointed to evidence that many of the record 22 million public comments submitted on the issue appear to have been faked, with evidence of many anti-net neutrality comments being posted by bots or under the identity of deceased people.

A study by the Pew Research Centre found that 57 per cent of these comments used temporary or duplicate email addresses, 94 per cent of the comments were submitted multiple times, and nearly half a million comments were submitted using Russian email addresses.

“[There is] clear evidence of organised campaigns to flood the comments with repeated messages,” the study concluded.

Meanwhile, a report by Jeff Kao, a data scientist, found that at least 1.3 million fake comments were submitted from a single central source.

The FCC has rejected the Senator’s demands for a delay, stating that the vote will go ahead as planned. In a statement, it said that net neutrality supporters are becoming “more desperate by the day” to prevent its repeal of legislation protecting net neutrality.

In another high-profile, letter to the FCC, led by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, has fiercely rebuked the organisation for failing to investigate evidence of false comments. According to an investigation by Schneidermann, “tens of thousands” of New York residents may have been impersonated by fraudulent commenters. He has set up a web portal which allows New York residents to check whether their identities have been used in the public comments without their consent, and report these cases.

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