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FCC's IG Failure to Examine 2014 Complaint About Questionable Comments Leads to Recurring Problems

FCC IG BadgeWeb

On October 8, 2014 Media Freedom.org, a right of center "Market-based group" "supported in part by communications industry and foundation contribution" filed a request with the FCC Inspector General that it investigate suspicious filings in the Net Neutrality proceeding that appeared to be filed falsely. False comments are not a new issue as your blogger recalls a few dozen that were filed in pre-ECFS days in Docket 81-413-which later became the basis of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Of course, with today's electronic filing and bots the ECFS system is particularly vulnerable since it has been little improved since being first implemented in the Hundt chairmanship. All of the parallel rule makings in the Executive Branch and many of the independent agencies use the federal government-wide Regulations.gov website to handle the ministerial issue of accepting and archiving comments, but the Powell chairmanship thought it would "save money" by having a separate stand alone system. (Perhaps it is time to reexamine whether this was really a good idea?)

The subject of the FCC IG has been a recurring issue in this blog. While the statutory duties of this position are the same as the duties of all other IGs in the federal government, an odd tradition has developed in FCC in the past 2 decades that the IG is always an insider who can be trusted by the Chairman and that he spends almost all his resources, presently a staff of 60 and an annual budget of $11,751,000, on Universal Service Fund fraud issues and avoids looking at overall FCC performance and questionable activities of senior FCC officials. No FCC IG has ever been appointed from a parallel position in another agency - only FCC insiders.

So did FCC's IG ever investigate this issue after Media Freedom raised it in 2014?

Look at the Report section of the IG's website and see if you can find anything? The only possible reference to this request to the IG is this cryptic section of the IG's Semiannual Report to Congress October 1, 2014—March 31, 2015:

IG report

Not very informative is it? Media Freedom also filed FOIA requests, another recurring topic of discussion here and another recurring problem area at FCC. They got 3 batches of released documents (1 2 3) but none of them contain the slightest hint that the IG was even looking into what actually happened and whether FCC had handled it properly. (But to be nice to FCC, these FOIA releases all have a proper redaction marketing - something that has been wildly inconsistent at FCC in the past.)

As we have stated before, this blog focuses on spectrum policy and for most of the past few years had had a "net neutrality-free zone policy" of not addressing net neutrality issues and their merits in any way. But it is clear the issue of large number of questionable comments in the net neutrality proceeding has been a recurring issue and still is an issue.

Perhaps FCC senior leadership should ask the IG why he didn't address this issue in some way in 2014 when Media Freedom first brought it to their attention. If the answer is that the FCC chairman at the time did not want it investigated then that is confirmation that the IG doesn't understand his legal duties.

Perhaps FCC should invite an IG from another agency to examine independently whether the FCC IG handled this matter properly.

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