Late-night political commentator John Oliver asked viewers to swamp the FCC website to protest the repeal of net neutrality rules.
Late-night political commentator John Oliver asked viewers to swamp the FCC website to protest the repeal of net neutrality rules.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) claimed Monday that distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks made its website poke along Sunday night into Monday rather than viewers swamping the site to protest the commission's recent rollback of net neutrality rules at the behest of “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver.

"Beginning on Sunday night at midnight, our analysis reveals that the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks," the commission said in a statement. "These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC's comment system."

But that statement met with skepticism from net neutrality advocates. “The FCC's statement today raises a lot of questions, and the agency should act immediately to ensure that voices of the public are not being silenced as it considers a move that would affect every single person that uses the Internet,” said Fight for the Future Campaign Director Evan Greer, who noted the incident indicates one of two troubling scenarios.

“FCC is being intentionally misleading, and trying to claim that the surge in traffic from large numbers of people attempting to access following John Oliver's segment amounts to a “DDoS” attack, 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,” said Greer. “Or 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.”

A similar slowdown occurred in 2014 when Oliver urged viewers to take to the FCC website to voice their support for net neutrality.

“Given 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, either of these scenarios should be concerning for anyone who cares about government transparency, free speech, and the future of the Internet,” said Greer.

She called for the commission to “immediately release its logs to an independent security analyst or major news outlet to verify exactly what happened last night,” contending that “the public deserves to know, and the FCC has a responsibility to maintain a functioning website and ensure that every member of the public who wants to submit a comment about net neutrality has the ability to do so. Anything less is a subversion of our democracy.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said Monday that it had launched DearFCC.org, a tool designed to help users "craft a unique comment to the FCC," according to a blog post. "Using custom-generated text, we help Internet users develop and submit personal comments to the official docket with just two clicks."