FCC Blames “Attacks” For Comment System Crash Following John Oliver Story

As we mentioned in our earlier story about John Oliver’s latest call-to-arms in defense of net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission’s public commenting system was acting a bit shaky. The FCC now claims that this crash wasn’t due to a bona fide rush to file comments, but to malicious attacks.

All day today, the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) has been slow, inaccessible, or just not quite right when you try to use it, presumably due to the high demand Oliver generated last night and this morning with his new video, which is currently the second-highest trending clip on YouTube and has about 875,000 views since this morning.

The FCC, however, is claiming that the system’s issues are due to a deliberate distributed denial of service attack (DDoS). The FCC’s Chief Information Officer issued the following statement about the system:

“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.”

“We have worked with our commercial partners to address this situation and will continue to monitor developments going forward,” he concluded.

When asked directly if the ECFS failure was related to the John Oliver story, a rep for the FCC tells Consumerist that the Commission does not know the motive behind the crash.

We, of course, have no way of proving what traffic did or didn’t come to the FCC’s websites overnight, outside of what the Commission says. It is entirely possible that a malicious group or user is trying to grind the wheels of this particular bureaucracy to a halt, and chose to start in the wee hours of a Monday morning.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that this supposed attack happened at midnight last night — exactly when the HBO airing of Last Week Tonight wraps up on the East Coast.

One could arguably describe Oliver’s exhortation to speak up to the FCC as a “deliberate attempt by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system.” However, his intent was not to render the system non-functional; it was an attempt to rally consumers to make their own voices heard.

The week that Pai unveiled his plan to reverse net neutrality protections, FCC staff warned the media that it expected “malicious attacks” to take down the public comment system at some point.

FCC officials have also noted that frankly, they don’t care much about the number of comments they get this time around.

“The comments process does not function as the equivalent of a public survey opinion or poll, and what matters is the quality of the argumentation presented,” an FCC official said in April. “The facts that are entered into the record, the legal arguments that are placed into the record — it’s not a counting procedure where we decide which side has placed more comments onto the record and that side wins.”

Regardless of the FCC’s opinion of your opinion, anyone who wants to make their voice heard should be able to. This process has many months and many stages yet to go, and public comment is a vital part of that procedure.

You just might want to space those comments out a bit; we hear the system’s pretty slow right now still.

This isn’t the first time that the FCC’s system has crashed following a John Oliver story.

Back in 2014, Oliver ran a segment on net neutrality — or, as he rebranded it, “cable company f*ckery” — that explained the issue and asked viewers to file comments with the FCC asking it to protect the open internet.

Viewers obliged, in droves. The Commission’s electronic commenting system crashed, and the FCC extended its filing deadline for several days in response. By the time all was said and done, that proceeding had received nearly 4 million public comments, a record for any FCC rulemaking — many of them spurred by Oliver’s viral video.

The FCC has since revamped and upgraded its commenting system somewhat, but it still has limitations. So when Oliver closed out his segment last night, he asked viewers to visit gofccyourself.com and once again file comments on the new proceeding.