Hill Presses FCC to Attack Bots

Senators take on net-neutrality docket's inauthentic comments

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communication Commission is under some bipartisan pressure to prevent false entries and stolen identities from mucking up the public comment process, an effort driven by problems with the network neutrality docket.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), pictured, has teamed up with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to target falso comments in the FCC's net-neutrality docket.

That came from two senators with some skin in the game, Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Both of their identities were stolen to file false comments in that FCC docket.

The FCC has been under pressure to ferret out bogus comments, given that as many as 2 million bot-generated or otherwise inauthentic comments were filed in that proceeding, representing by far the most comments, real and fake, for any FCC action.

Related: Pew Finds Millions of Issues With Net-Neutrality Comments

FCC chair Ajit Pai has said the agency is working to address those issues while still trying to make the process as open as possible. He signaled after the fake comments were identified that erring on the side of inclusion could mean some bad apples wind up in the bunch, as it were.

But the senators had some suggestions for tightening up that process, including using CAPTCHA technology (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) to battle the bots. The technology uses those boxes with numbers and letters to retype so a computer can tell whether the user is not another computer.

The senators also want the FCC to publicize just how many fake comments were filed in the docket. There have been some complaints that the distorted letters and numbers are hard to identify, which could discourage use of the system.