John Oliver Tries to Rescue Net Neutrality – Again

For the second time in three years, John Oliver has again used his position on a popular TV show to issue a call to action on net neutrality protections in the US.

For the second time, his urgings have led to the Federal Communications Commission’s website crashing from too much traffic.

Or maybe it was hacked. That’s what the FCC is saying.

Either way, here’s what happened Sunday night:

Oliver, on his Last Week Tonight show, informed viewers that the FCC is considering ways to roll back the net neutrality protections enshrined under President Obama. These regulations were verified by the courts as legal and went into effect in June 2015. Two weeks ago, Ajit Pai, the new FCC commissioner under the Trump administration, said he will be presenting the FCC with his roadmap for undoing the protections in the commission’s next public meeting later this month.

Opponents to net neutrality have called it a solution in search of a problem, arguing that internet service providers (ISPs) would be hesitant to invest in their broadband infrastructure and growth because regulating internet service and speeds in the same way that utilities are governed is not good business sense.

Oliver used file footage of interviews with Pai since he took over chairing the commission to point out the need for net neutrality protection.

“He reportedly floated just having ISP voluntarily agree not to obstruct or slow consumer access to web content by putting that promise in their terms of service – you know, the things that no human being has ever read and that can change whenever companies want them to,” Oliver said. “That idea would basically make net neutrality as binding as a proposal on The Bachelor.”

In a 20-minute deep-dive on net neutrality, something Oliver explains as vital but really boring sounding, he urges Americans to submit comments to the FCC’s website in support of the current regulations.

“We the people must take this matter into our own hands,” he said, outlining how comments can be made on the FCC site. He also pointed out that, to make it easier, his show bought the URL, which links directly to the page on the FCC’s website where comments can be submitted.

“Every internet group needs to come together like you successfully did three years ago,” Oliver said. “Every subculture must join as one: Gamers, YouTube celebrities, Instagram models… we need all of you. Even, and I cannot believe I’m saying this, Donald Trump’s internet fans on sites like 4Chan and reddit, the most powerful online trolls of all. This subject is one of the few things that we actually really agree on, so simply express yourselves and harness the rage you normally reserve for me…”

Within a short time of the episode airing Sunday evening, the FCC’s website crashed. As of Monday night, by the way? More than 184,600 comments had been filed.

In a statement released Monday, the FCC claims it was the victim of an attack.

“Beginning on Sunday night at midnight, our analysis reveals that the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks. 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.”

Pai and David Bray, the FCC’s chief information officer, say that they are taking steps to ensure the problem does not happen again.

The FCC also has published a fact sheet titled “Open internet process: then and now,” asking whether the chairman will take the advice he gave as a commissioner in 2014.

While Oliver’s enthusiasm and reach is impressive and might have led to the FCC’s website crashing a second time, it’s unclear whether the effort will be successful again.

Jeff Dunn at Business Insider notes that “flood of comments is unlikely to matter as much. Or at least, volume alone isn’t likely to sway a Republican FCC majority that’s convinced, sure as the sun, that the Obama-era rules are a mistake.”

It’s still important for people to submit comments, he says, but “Ajit Pai, the main subject of Oliver’s scorn on Sunday, has already made it clear that another millions-deep comment barrage won’t stop him from doing what he believes is right—namely, repealing Title II, trusting ISPs to do the right thing, and acting only after a potential net-neutrality violation (or, what he considers a violation) has occurred, instead of blocking it beforehand.”

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

Amber Healy has 517 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Healy

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