Vt. Woman: I Didn’t Write That

Published: 12/8/2017 11:56:53 PM
Modified: 12/8/2017 11:57:00 PM

Montpelier — Irene Racz said she favors maintaining current net neutrality rules allowing all web content equal access to the internet.

But the Federal Communications Commission’s public comments website contains a statement from an Irene Racz, of Montpelier, saying she favors rolling back net neutrality rules put in place during the Obama administration.

“Due to the grip of the utility-style regulations imposed under the previous Commission,” the comment says, “taxpayers have been put at risk, the threat of new fees on consumer bills still looms large, investment in internet infrastructure has not realized its full potential, innovations have gone undeveloped and unrealized, and twenty years of the appropriate level of oversight of the internet has been reversed.”

But Racz, pronounced “Race,” who is in fact a Montpelier resident, says she didn’t write that.

“I was shocked and dismayed that comments allegedly written by me and misrepresenting my views were submitted to the FCC without my knowledge or consent,” the retired communications expert said. “In an era of ‘fake news,’ any public agency relying on phony comments to make decisions affecting all Americans is nothing more than ‘fake government.’ ”

Racz said she got a call this week from Christopher Curtis of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office.

“I was told when I got the call that there were quite a few people affected,” Racz said. “He asked me, ‘Did you submit a comment?’ I said no,” she said.

Curtis did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Racz said she quickly emailed the FCC. “I’m horrified that there is no standard for comment verification on your site,” she wrote to the federal agency. “Please remove this fraudulent comment immediately.”

An FCC spokesman said on Thursday the fake comment is not an isolated case, and that the commission actually has drafted a form letter that it is sending to people who complain about such incidents.

The comment falsely attributed to Racz was not removed.

“We are aware of this problem, and sent this letter to people who complained about it, explaining our process to address the issue,” FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said.

The agency’s answer is reminiscent of a famous line from a 1927 U.S. Supreme Court decision written by Justice Louis Brandeis.

When faced with bad or false speech, Brandeis wrote, “the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

The FCC is essentially inviting anyone in Racz’s position to submit another comment describing her or his views and explaining that the earlier comment did not accurately do so.

“Once filed in the FCC’s rulemaking record, there are limits on the agency’s ability to delete, change or otherwise remove comments from the record,” the FCC’s form letter says.

When filing a corrective comment, “You are welcome to include your correspondence on this matter — including a statement that the comments you reference were not filed by you ... ”

The Vermont Attorney General’s Office also has set up a special website where people can check their names to see if they are recorded as having made a comment they didn’t make.

The FCC has been taking comments this year on proposed rules that would allow internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T the ability to decide what content customers see and how fast it’s delivered.

Current net neutrality rules require essentially that all data be treated as equal.

Vermont is one of 13 states that have filed comments with the FCC urging that current net neutrality rules be continued.

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