Attack of the bots? FCC’s website gets deluge of anti-net neutrality spam

The suspected bot attack follows DDoS attacks earlier this week that knocked the site offline.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) building in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) building in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

If the FCC needed any sign of how people feel about net neutrality, it just got two in one week.

The comment section on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to repeal net neutrality rules is being spammed with the same likely bot-originated anti-net neutrality comment more than 58,0000 times, ZDNet first reported.

The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration imposed on the internet is smothering innovation, damaging the American economy and obstructing job creation. I urge the Federal Communications Commission to end the bureaucratic regulatory overreach of the internet known as Title II and restore the bipartisan light-touch regulatory consensus that enabled the internet to flourish for more than 20 years.

ZDNet reported that the bot is using real people’s names and addresses to post the repeated comments. According to reporter Zack Whittaker, when contacted to verify the posts, some of the 24 purported commenters confirmed that they didn’t leave messages on the FCC’s website. The official source of the messages is unconfirmed.

News of the suspected bot attack comes just days after the FCC site crashed because of multiple distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on its servers, which the FCC said “made it difficult for legitimate commenters” to log their comments on the site.

It was initially reported that the website was overloaded by people inspired by comedian John Oliver’s segment on net neutrality on Sunday, which encouraged viewers to fight Pai’s proposal. Oliver has made similar calls to action in the past: In 2015, before the rules were passed and adopted, the FCC received 45,000 net neutrality comments after Oliver encouraged his viewers to make their opinions known.

This week’s cyberattacks on the FCC are likely a preview for the intense debate and protest to come as the Republican-led agency makes progress toward renouncing its regulatory control over broadband companies. Pai, who originally voted against the net neutrality regulations in 2015, announced his proposal to begin undoing the rules in April.

Net neutrality has been long opposed by conservatives, who tend to support looser regulations that can often favor big telecom companies. The FCC is holding an open meeting to discuss Pai’s proposal May 18. And if the past is any indication of the future, the net neutrality protests of yesteryear are likely to return both online and at the FCC’s doorstep. Comments on the proposal will stay open through August.