FCC Server Crashed Due to Flood of Net Neutrality Comments

The Federal Communications Commission’s public comment system crashed last year due to a massive volume of comments from people who opposed the FCC’s attempts to roll back net neutrality rules, an agency official said.

The FCC’s Office of Inspector General began an independent investigation after the May 2017 server crash and concluded in an unpublished report that a rumored cyberattack was not to blame, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in an Aug. 6 statement.

“What happened instead is obvious—millions of Americans overwhelmed our online system because they wanted to tell us how important internet openness is to them and how distressed they were to see the FCC roll back their rights,” Rosenworcel, the agency’s lone Democrat, said.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai blamed former FCC Chief Information Officer David Bray of spreading “inaccurate information” about an outage of the electronic comment filing system (ECFS) caused by a denial-of-service attack from people who “attempted to send high traffic in an attempt to tie-up the server.”

“While our information technology staff worked hard to keep the system up and running in the weeks and months following this incident, it has become abundantly clear that ECFS needs to be updated,” he said in an Aug. 6 statement.

Bray was not questioned by the FCC’s OIG for the investigation and hasn’t seen the final report, advocacy group People-Centered Internet told Bloomberg Law in a statement. Bray, who left the FCC in 2017, is now executive director of the group.

“There has not been any outreach to ask what he had seen, observed, or concluded during the events more than a year ago in May 2017,” the group said.

Rosenworcel criticized the GOP-controlled FCC for spending time and resources to debunk an “implausible claim” that a cyberattack had occurred.

Shortly before the crash, John Oliver, the host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” urged net neutrality supporters to electronically submit comments to the FCC’s system.

The OIG’s office didn’t immediately reply to a Bloomberg Law request for comment.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Reid at jreid@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Roger Yu at ryu@bloomberglaw.com