The United States Federal Communications Commission has said that it was the subject of an attack which was meant to overwhelm its website with traffic.
In a May 7 episode of the HBO show "Last Week Tonight," host John Oliver discussed the concept of net neutrality for the second time during the show's run. According to Time, net neutrality rules prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from interfering with the way that content is delivered to consumers. For example, under net neutrality rules, ISPs are unable to slow down the delivery of content from less popular sites while speeding up content from more popular sites.
Under the administration of former President Barack Obama, the FCC established rules which safeguarded net neutrality. However, Ajit Pai -- the new FCC chair under President Donald Trump's administration -- has proposed a new plan to roll back some of the Obama-era protections. As part of that plan, he has suggested that ISPs could promise to uphold net neutrality in their terms of service. According to Reuters, this plan will face an initial vote on May 18.
According to Time, Oliver spent his May 7 show advocating for the importance of net neutrality and expressing his discontent with Pai's proposed changes. Oliver also urged viewers to speak up and advocate for the importance of net neutrality. In order to do so, he bought the website GoFCCYourself.com, which redirects to the FCC's comment page. Oliver encouraged his viewers to express their support of the current net neutrality rules by writing comments on this page.
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Following the episode, the FCC's website experienced connectivity issues, according to The Washington Post. Some initially believed that the influx of comments following Oliver's show -- which, according to Reuters, totaled more than 100,000 -- was responsible for the website's troubles. However, a statement released by FCC Chief Information Officer Dr. David Bray implied that this was not the case and that the website's issues were caused by a deliberate attack.
"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," said Bray as part of a statement.
"These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves," he continued, "rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC."
HBO has also made a statement regarding the incident.
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"Neither 'Last Week Tonight' nor HBO were involved in any DDoS attack against the FCC website on Sunday night," the network said in a statement, according to CNBC.
Some are skeptical of the FCC's comments regarding the website's issues. According to The Washington Post, the advocacy group Fight For the Future has expressed concern that the FCC has not accurately determined the cause of the website's issues. The group has suggested that the attack could have occurred to keep Oliver's viewers from commenting, and called on the FCC to release its logs to be analyzed by an independent party.