WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, the Office of Inspector General of the Federal Communications Commission released a report stating that, contrary to earlier statements from Chairman Ajit Pai’s FCC, the agency did not experience denial-of-service attacks during the public proceeding Pai used to repeal the agency’s Net Neutrality rules.
In May 2017, following an episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight in which host John Oliver urged viewers to submit comments to the FCC supporting Net Neutrality, the agency’s electronic-comment filing system became unavailable and people were unable to submit their comments.
After the attacks, and against logic and the weight of the evidence, the Pai FCC denied accusations that the FCC server simply could not handle the traffic. Instead, he claimed that the agency had been subject to multiple denial-of-service attacks. At the time, FCC Chief Information Officer David Bray stated:
"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. These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC."
Numerous security experts questioned that statement. In response, Pai’s office issued a blistering statement calling the reports and investigations “categorically false” and “completely irresponsible.” For months following the May 2017 incident Pai’s staff continued to insist that the FCC had ”voluminous documentation” of the alleged attacks.
The IG report states that the “FCC made several specific statements that we believe misrepresent facts about the event or provide misleading information.” The report also notes that Oliver's staff reached out to the FCC to give it advanced warning before the show went to air, but that Chairman Pai's office didn’t bother telling Bray to expect the resulting influx of comments.
Free Press Deputy Director and Senior Counsel Jessica J. González made the following statement:
“Today’s IG report exposes the Pai FCC’s general willingness to ignore logic and contradictory evidence when doing so supports his preconceived notions and political agenda. In this case, the former chief information officer’s story was obviously flawed, but Pai and his office didn’t hesitate to pass along that story and dismiss its critics.
“In his response to the inspector general’s report, Pai throws former CIO David Bray under the bus and tries to blame the prior administration for hiring him. But Bray worked for Pai at the time of these incidents, and later statements describing the supposedly 'voluminous documentation' for this attack came from Pai’s hand-picked spokesman.
“Pai has a long history of misleading the public on Net Neutrality, including claiming that there was strong public support for his 2017 decision to repeal the rules, which couldn’t be further from the truth. This makes it particularly difficult to take anything he or his staff says about the Net Neutrality docket, or frankly anything at all, at face value.
“As Pai is busy passing the buck, little attention has been paid to the hundreds of thousands of people who were unable to comment in the Net Neutrality proceeding because the chairman and his staff failed to perform the due diligence necessary for the FCC’s filing system to function during heavy traffic.
“Pai and his staff seem to think that this bombshell report somehow vindicates them, by suggesting they had no knowledge that the claims he and his spokespeople repeated were false. If that were the case, then Pai is such an incompetent chairman that he has no control over his agency, and no inclination to tell the truth, even when evidence shows that he’s flat out wrong.”