Cyberattack, not HBO comedian, caused website wipeout, says FCC

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Late Sunday night and Monday morning, the website of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) became unresponsive, which interfered with attempts by the public to express their views on the proposals currently up for comment, including one about Net Neutrality. Although comedian John Oliver on his show Last Week Tonight had asked his viewers to inundate the website with comments supporting Net Neutrality, the FCC says a DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) cyberattack, not angry HBO fans, are responsible for their website's issues.

John Oliver in 2013.
Image: Photo by Max Morse for TechCrunch.

FCC Chief Information Officer David Bray explained in a formal statement that's problems did not come from a large volume of complaints and comments, which is what Oliver had asked his fans to make, but from sabotage. "These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC," said Bray.

Net Neutrality is the idea that Internet providers should not be allowed to speed up or slow down access to certain websites, which would presumably be done for payment. In 2014, the U.S. government ruled Internet providers must be held to standards similar to those of telephone companies and changed their legal classification to fall under Title II of the 1934 Telecommunications Act, which gave the FCC the legal authority to order them not to give preferential treatment to high-paying customers.

In response to a previous Net Neutrality proposal in 2014, John Oliver did a segment on the fifth episode of Last Week Tonight explaining the difference between Title I and Title II status and asking his viewers to flood the FCC's websites with comments supporting regulation. Approximately 4 million did so, and the website crashed. Sunday night, Oliver asked the public to repeat the performance, recommending comments to make and providing a single link to take them to the exact part of required: "America needs you to rise — or more accurately, remain seated in front of your computer screen — to this occasion," said Oliver on the air. "So please, fly my pretties, fly once more!" Again, the FCC website soon suffered problems.

Despite Sunday night's issues, the FCC still received tens of thousands of comments on the proposed relaxing of the 2014 regulations, which is up for a vote on May 18.


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