Net Neutrality: FCC FCC’s Itself

Last year, John Oliver had an an exceptional episode of “Last Week Tonight” devoted to the net neutrality issue. One of the things he took up was the apparently deliberate burying of how to actually make a comment responding to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal (and currently done deal) to rescind Title II classification of ISPs as common carriers, and with it any ability to enforce net neutrality (or any other regulation, as the FCC has already been told by the courts that Title II is its *only* route to regulatory authority there). Oliver rolled out a domain name that used URL linking to deliver people directly to the point where they could actually enter a comment in response to the proposal. It was called, “”.

The FCC comment servers folded the next couple of days after the GoFCCYourself campaign rolled out. The FCC issued a press release that its servers had, coincidentally, been attacked by hackers using distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks to bring them down. The FCC responded to questions from congress with the same information.

And now we know that the FCC press release and its statements to congress were, um, untrue. That is, they were false. And the people at the FCC knew that they were false. Does anyone remember, from long, long ago, a term that used to be applied to an untruth intentionally told? I’ll wait. Yes, that’s right, they were lies.

An Ars Technica article provides details from an Inspector General’s report on the curious case of the FCC hack that wasn’t.

Because the FCC determined that the severity of this event warranted a press release, and given the level of congressional and media attention to the event, we assumed the FCC would have classified the event internally as a cyber security incident and that [it] would have followed federal guidelines as well as FCC policies and procedures as part of the incident response process. As we attempted to collect available information related to the event, we discovered the FCC had not defined the event internally as a cyber security incident, that the matter had not been referred to US-CERT, and that none of the documents required under the FCC’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for Incident Response had been prepared.

FCC CIO David Bray seems to be the central figure in this mess. John Oliver’s production team did inform the FCC concerning its show on net neutrality several days prior to the episode being aired. But apparently the media contact people did not bother to pass that information on to others at the FCC, so Bray’s IT department and its private contractors found themselves blindsided by the sheer volume of comment submissions. Chagrined, Bray apparently sought an explanation, any explanation, that did not credit Oliver’s show with having had any effect. And thus an entire hacking incident was invented out of whole cloth and publicly announced via press release. Trump appointee and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai admonished reporters over the event, saying that the FCC had “voluminous” documentation that it was indeed hackers and not comedians that had laid their infrastructure low, tacitly confirming the fake news invented by Bray. The IG report, as noted above, shows that there was no such evidence as Chairman Pai had said existed, and no one had even bothered to take the trouble to glance at logs and other sources that might have been sources of such evidence, if it had existed, which it didn’t. These various lies were repeated in response to questions from congress.

Now, one might also take a moment to think of a time, long, long ago, when lying to congress was itself considered a crime worthy of prosecution and punishment. You may rest assured, though, that persons assisting the current executive branch in its plundering of the US body politic shall no longer have to concern themselves about such arcana. While the IG referred reports of the apparent crimes to officials tasked with enforcing them, the response seems to be a tepid, “Whatever.” No one is having charges referred over this.

You do, though, get to have an internet infrastructure without net neutrality. Taking that away is something the FCC was not lying about. Getting it back will take work.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

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