The New York Attorney General’s office issued subpoenas on Tuesday to 14 groups allegedly involved in submitting nearly 10 million phony comments -- almost half of all 22 million comments submitted -- to influence the debate over net neutrality, a source familiar with the case told ABC News.
“My office will get to the bottom of what happened and hold accountable those responsible for using stolen identities to distort public opinion on net neutrality,” New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted last year to repeal existing U.S. net neutrality rules. Net neutrality is the concept that internet providers should treat all data equally, and not make distinctions between the type of data, the user, or the website.
The five FCC commissioners voted along party lines, with three Republicans voting for rolling back net neutrality, and two Democrats voting against it.
The New York attorney general’s office believes more than 9.5 million comments submitted during the FCC’s public comment period were generated using stolen identities.
That’s nearly half of all comments submitted and points to a corruption of the public comment process.
Investigators were able to identify four types of stolen-ID submissions and have subpoenaed a variety of entities that appear to have been involved, a source familiar with the investigation told ABC News.
The groups subpoenaed include Broadband for America, the Center for Individual Freedom, and Media Bridge, which claimed credit on their own website for submitting about 800,000 anti-net neutrality comments in 2014.
Last year the New York attorney general urged people to check whether their identity was misused as part of the net neutrality public comment process, and report if it was.
“This is a case of someone using the identity of a 13 years old minor. This is such a disgrace to the public trust,” said one person from Lowell, Indiana.
“I’m sick to my stomach knowing that somebody stole my identity and used it to push a viewpoint that I do not hold,” wrote another commenter from Columbus, Ohio. “This solidifies my stance that in no way can the FCC use the public comments as a means to justify the vote they will hold here shortly.”