July 24, 2017
It sounds impressive that the Federal Communications Commission has received more than 10 million comments on its Restoring Internet Freedom docket, which is focused on what the agency should do about net neutrality protections for consumers, the innovation community and broadband internet service providers.
Thus far the public comments appear evenly divided between those who – in the name of net neutrality — support yet more government control of our Internet versus those urging the federal government to take a lighter, more modern approach. But a large – and growing – number of those comments appear to have questionable origins.
In just nine days, more than 1.3 million comments hit the FCC from non-U.S. filers, with Russia leading the charge. Ironic isn’t it? More than 325,500 comments were submitted from a country without a free and open internet, free speech or a free press, and whose government is no admirer of “light touch” policies when it comes to government regulation, the oversight of its citizens, and the content they can access. Hundreds of thousands of comments flooding the FCC website from Russia begs the question: Are Russian interests attempting to subvert official U.S. policy-making proceedings? What other proceedings at other agencies might they also be trying to influence?
Russia commenters are not alone. There have been more than 325,000 comments submitted from Germany; more than 102,000 filed from France and more than 476,000 comments submitted from the U.S. but entered into the system as “international filer,” according to the National Legal and Policy Center. It’s unfortunate that so many net neutrality comments from foreign entities, bots, and other questionable sources are flooding the FCC, which has historically operated with an open process that encourages domestic participation from all sides of an issue.
It is a prescient affirmation that less government is better. Regulating broadband internet access service like a public utility is hardly a pro-consumer move since it injects government into an area that has flourished free of the heavy hand of bureaucrats. The fact of the matter is, Americans have always enjoyed a free and open internet, and everyone — regulators, activists and internet service providers — have always supported this 21st-century vehicle for free speech. We have enjoyed our free and open internet largely because of hands-off, light-touch regulations that have cultivated innovation, ingenuity and investment – placing the U.S. squarely on the worldwide broadband leaderboard.
This most recent — and downright peculiar — Russian involvement in our FCC’s comment process raises only more concerns and questions. It also raises the specter of whether there has been yet more unnecessary foreign interference in America’s vibrant internet ecosystem. As regulators sift through the millions of comments that have been filed at the agency so far, it’s important they consider how to ensure that the U.S. internet remains a place of freedom — of speech as well as access.