The U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s website slowed to a crawl after comic and political commentator John Oliver urged viewers to flood the agency with comments in support of net neutrality, in what appeared to be a repeat of a 2014 incident.
With the FCC headed toward a repeal of net neutrality rules it passed in early 2015, Oliver on Sunday echoed his “Last Week Tonight” commentary on the topic from three years ago. (Note to viewers: The link to Oliver’s new diatribe is not safe for work.) As in 2014, the FCC’s website seemed to buckle under the load late Sunday and early Monday, but the cause may have been more sinister than a flood of people expressing their support for net neutrality rules.
In this case, the FCC website was hit with a series of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks starting about midnight Eastern Time, FCC CIO David Bray said Monday.
“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,” Bray said in an emailed statement. “These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC.”
The DDoS attacks “tied up the servers and prevented them from responding to people attempting to submit comments,” he said.
An FCC spokesman declined to speculate on the motivation for the DDoS attacks. If they were inspired by Oliver’s commentary, they acted against its purpose. The attacks would have prevented net neutrality supporters from filing comments.
“Once again, net neutrality is in trouble,” Oliver said Sunday night. “It seems, once more, we the people must take this matter into our own hands. Every internet group needs to come together like you successfully did three years ago.
Before its 2015 vote to impose net neutrality rules, the FCC received 4 million public comments on the issue, with a large majority supporting strong regulations.
Broadband providers and many Republicans oppose the net neutrality rules, saying they have slowed broadband investment and created unnecessary regulations. Some opponents of the 2015 version of the rules have pointed to small decreases in broadband investment in 2015 and 2016, but it’s unclear how much impact the rules had.
As of Monday afternoon, Oliver’s commentary had been viewed more than 900,000 times on YouTube.