Net neutrality

FCC hit by online attacks after John Oliver criticizes net neutrality proposal

Hours after the comedian John Oliver attacked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, urging viewers to criticize a proposal to loosen net neutrality rules, the agency’s website was hit by distributed denial of service attacks that caused it to crash.

The proposal, championed by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, aims to roll back Obama-era rules on net neutrality. Currently, broadband internet providers are regulated like utilities, meaning that they can’t slow down internet connections in an effort to convince people to pay for faster internet packages, or charge certain services to have their content delivered faster.

“Net neutrality is about more than just speed,” Oliver said on the Sunday episode of his “Last Week Tonight” show. “At its heart, it is the principle that internet service providers, or ISPs like these guys, should not be able to engage in any sort of fuckery that engages or manipulates the choices you make online.”

So Oliver asked viewers to visit a domain named — a URL that took users directly to an page where they could make comments about the proposal. By Monday evening, the proposal had nearly 185,000 comments.

But it wasn’t a sudden, massive influx of comments that crashed the FCC’s website, according to an FCC statement. Rather, it was a series of distributed denial-of-service that started at midnight Sunday night. “These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system with a high amount of traffic,” reads the 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 last time Oliver mobilized viewers to support net neutrality, when the FCC was accepting public comments on net neutrality reforms in 2014, the agency said it ended up receiving more than 3 million comments.

But Pai, who became chairman of the FCC in December, has repeatedly criticized such rules as stifling industry growth. In a December speech, while still an FCC commissioner, Pai said, “We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation.”

The plan to reverse net neutrality rules, titled “Restoring Internet Freedom,” will face an initial vote May 18.

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