FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who initially downplayed more than a million fake comments submitted ahead of the agency's vote to repeal net neutrality.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who initially downplayed more than a million fake comments submitted ahead of the agency’s vote to repeal net neutrality.

The FBI has just opened an investigation into millions of falsely-entered comments related to net neutrality.

The move follows an avalanche of fake comments ahead of the FCC’s net neutrality repeal, with Russian accounts now confirmed to be a major contributor.  Most of the comments favored the FCC’s controversial removal of net neutrality protections in the United States.

Just last week, FCC chairman Ajit Pai flatly admitted that Russians played a major role in the commenting debacle, a situation that raises serious concerns about the agency’s filtering processes and overall IT security.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Russian interference in the FCC rollback was followed by noisy battles between the FCC, a number of U.S. States, a large number of U.S. attorneys general, and Trump’s Department of Justice.  That sort of political destabilization is a widely suspected motivation for mass-scale Russian trolling.

The FBI’s investigation was tipped this weekend by Buzzfeed News.  The federal investigation follows an investigation by the office of the New York State Attorney General.

At this stage, the scope and focus of the FBI’s investigation is unclear.

The flood of fake comments was overwhelming, and the FCC appeared to have few mechanisms to confirm email addresses or filter fake submissions.

In a court filing surfacing last week, Ajit Pai admitted that it was a “fact” that a “half-million comments [were] submitted from Russian e-mail addresses and… nearly eight million comments [were] filed by e-mail addresses from e-mail domains associated with FakeMailGenerator.com…”

“Something here is rotten — and it’s time for the FCC to come clean.”

A Stanford University investigation released in October revealed that 99.7% of the verified, real comments opposed the rollback of net neutrality.

Aside from the deliberate attempts to sway the FCC’s ruling on the matter, the fake comments also introduced serious identify theft concerns.  Some, like numerous pro-rollback comments from ‘Barack Obama,’ were obviously faked, though most others poached real names matched with faked email addresses.

“As many as nine and a half million people had their identities stolen and used to file fake comments, which is a crime under both federal and state laws,” FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel declared. “Nearly eight million comments were filed from e-mail domains associated with FakeMailGenerator.com.  On top of this, roughly half a million comments were filed from Russian e-mail addresses.”

“Something here is rotten — and it’s time for the FCC to come clean.”

That last comment hints at possible involvement by top FCC administrators like Pai, who faced serious public opposition to the net neutrality rollback.  At this stage, Ajit Pai and the FCC are resisting efforts by the New York Times and Buzzfeed to subpoena agency documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).