The FCC Denies Assumptions that Traffic From John Oliver’s Segment Caused Their Site to Malfunction


On Sunday night, John Oliver ended a long segment on net neutrality by informing audiences that he’d set up a URL to help viewers access the page on the Federal Communications Commission website that allows public comments on the issue. The URL enables people to circumvent the otherwise labyrinthine path to the page: as Oliver explained, that path involved a series of seemingly superfluous, confusing forms. (It’s almost as if the FCC wanted to make it as hard to comment as possible!)

To expedite comment, Oliver’s people created the beautifully titled, which leads straight to the final, comment-posting form on the FCC’s website. Suddenly, it was a lot easier for those who wanted to support the idea of an Internet where information isn’t governed by what companies can give service providers the most money. And suddenly, the FCC site got really wonky.

As The Hill reported yesterday, the site’s abrupt problems came not long after Oliver’s segment, leading many to assume that the lag was a result of high traffic. Not so, according to the FCC: the commission’s chief information officer, David Bray, released a statement earlier today about the website’s problems, with no reference to the segment the night prior. Instead, the statement claims that the site was attacked:

Beginning on Sunday night at midnight, our analysis reveals that the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS). These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system with a high amount of traffic to our commercial cloud host. These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC. While the comment system remained up and running the entire time, these DDoS events tied up the servers and prevented them from responding to people attempting to submit comments.

The Guardian notes that Oliver’s last segment on the FCC — back in 2014 — resulted in 4 million comments flooding the commission’s website. And both the Guardian and the Washington Post note that Fight for the Future, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group “working to expand the Internet’s power for good,” seems skeptical of the FCC’s statement. In a press release, the group’s campaign head, Evan Greer, outlined two potential scenarios she described as “concerning”:

– The FCC is being intentionally misleading, and trying to claim that the surge in traffic from large numbers of people attempting to access [the site] following John Oliver’s segment amounts to a “DDoS” attack, in order to let themselves off the hook for essentially silencing large numbers of people by not having a properly functioning site to receive comments from the public about an important issue; or – Someone actually did DDoS the FCC’s site at the exact same time as John Oliver’s segment, in order to actively prevent people from commenting in support of keeping the Title II net neutrality rules that millions of people fought for in 2015.

Greer called for the FCC to “immediately release their logs to an independent security analyst who can determine what really happened here.” Of course, it’d pretty surprising if the FCC — now under the net-neutrality averse Trump appointee Ajit Pai — did anything of the sort.