If we are to believe what we are told, we should not believe anything. Ever. The media claims the president lies. The president claims the media lies. The internet is constantly being misused and misinformation is coming at us from every direction.

In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, the First Lady rebuked reporters, among others, for supposedly using her husband’s fame to propel their careers forward. The criticism came after Hannity prompted her to identify the “hardest thing” she’s faced during her time in the White House.

“I’d say the opportunists who are using my name or my family name to advance themselves, from comedians to journalists to performers, book writers,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt. The problem is they’re writing the history and it’s not correct.”

It would seem, as a society, we have devolved: When we hear about things we don’t like, it’s easy to just dismiss it as fake news. That broad generalization — and the motives behind it — cause great dismay because it tears at truths. We no longer can — wholeheartedly — believe facts. Because one way or another, it appears we are being lied to.

Now the very processes we trust are being called into question: elections, court systems and lawmaking, to name a few. The simple process of having a voice now appears to be broken as well.

That is troubling at a new level. Much is at stake — not just nationally but here in Vermont, where voices need to be heard.

It was reported Thursday by BuzzFeed News that the Justice Department is investigating whether crimes were committed when potentially millions of people’s identities were posted to the FCC’s website without their permission, falsely attributing to them opinions about net neutrality rules. The reports are the first that federal investigators are taking an interest in the case, which was already subject to an investigation previously announced by the New York attorney general’s office.

The comment scheme took place over the course of months beginning in April 2017 after the Trump administration’s FCC chair, Ajit Pai, moved to overturn Obama-era rules enforcing net neutrality, a regulation that prevented internet providers from choosing which web traffic gets to flow at full speed.

The rule enjoyed broad public support, according to multiple polls, and required a period of public comment before Pai’s change could go into effect. More than 20 million comments have since appeared on the site, with the New York attorney general’s office estimating that up to 9.5 million of those were filed in people’s names without their consent.

Earlier this week, the FCC issued a decision on two Freedom of Information requests filed by BuzzFeed News and the New York Times. In it, the commission voted not to release the records that the news organizations had requested: data from web server logs that could shed additional light on the suspicious comments.

More recently, the FCC is proposing new rules that would negate the intent of the Cable Communications Act of 1984 around cable franchise fees. The intent of the act was to provide PEG access channels for public use with funding from the cable TV providers.

The new rules proposed by the FCC would allow the cable companies to deduct the value of their “in-kind” services from the franchise fees they pay to the cities, including the “value” of the channels themselves, which was specifically not allowed in the act. For PEG stations, like the 25 here in Vermont, it is an attack that would probably shutter all the access channels in the U.S. The sole purpose of the proposed rules is to increase the profits of the cable companies.

The deadline to submit comments to the FCC is today. Nov. 14, was the deadline for initial comments, and Dec. 14 is the deadline for follow-up comments. The national organization of public access stations and state affiliates has hired lawyers to contest the rule changes. To save PEG stations, Americans need a voice. (The link for filing a comment is here: bit.ly/savecommunitymedia)

And closer to home, Vermonters need to be able to have input on a proposed telecommunications plan.

“The plan sets forth a clear strategy for continuing to improve broadband access and quality in Vermont,” said Department of Public Service Commissioner June Tierney in a release. “Access to high-quality, affordable telecommunications service is essential. While many Vermonters have several broadband and wireless voice options from which to choose, the plan proposes steps to help the many Vermonters who still lack such choices.”

The Department of Public Service is working to update Vermont’s Telecommunications Plan, which has not been revised since 2014. Several public comment hearings are scheduled. One was in Montpelier this week. Other hearings are scheduled for Rutland, St. Johnsbury, Brattleboro and Burlington.

Especially on matters that affect how Vermonters receive information in order to make their own judgments about questionable facts and statements, they need these trusted processes and the transparency necessary to ensure their opinions are heard and respected.

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