Net Neutrality Advocates Not Buying FCC’s Claim that Hackers Crashed Site

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is claiming that it wasn’t a flood of comments from consumers furious over the agency’s efforts to kill the open internet that crashed its website, but rather hackers with malicious intent. And net neutrality advocates aren’t buying it.

In fact, they are “extremely skeptical,” as Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future, put it in an email on Tuesday. So much so that the group is asking the FCC to “release their logs to an independent security researcher or major media outlet who can verify their claims and inform the public about what really happened here.”

“The agency has a responsibility to maintain a functioning website to receive large numbers of comments and feedback from the public,” Greer said. “They can’t blame [distributed denial-of-service (DDoS)] attacks without proof, they need to fix this problem and ensure that comments on this important issue are not lost.”

Comedian and HBO host John Oliver’s Sunday evening segment lambasted the FCC for trying to abolish net neutrality and drove viewers—via the domain—to leave commentary on the agency’s website in support of Title II net neutrality protections ahead of a May 18th vote to changee the classification. It was widely reported that the surge of responses crashed the site.

But in a Monday press statement (pdf), the agency’s chief information officer Dr. David Bray claimed that the site failure was a result of multiple DDoS attacks.

“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. “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.”

In response, Greer said the FCC statement “raises a lot of questions,” and noted that there are two possible scenarios, both of which are “concerning.”

One possibility, she said, is that the FCC “is being intentionally misleading…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.”

Another, Greer continued, is that “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.”

This is not the first time the FCC has made such a claim. According to Greer, the agency said this happened in 2014 during the last John Oliver segment on this issue, as well.

Given FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s “open hostility toward net neutrality, and the telecom industry’s long history of astroturfing and paying shady organizations to do their dirty work,” Greer added, “either of these scenarios should be concerning for anyone who cares about government transparency, free speech, and the future of the Internet.”


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