FCC's feedback pages are being flooded by bots

Fake anti-net neutrality comments, using the names of real people, are pouring into to the FCC's web pages, reports say.

Rochelle Garner Features Editor / News
Rochelle Garner is features editor for CNET News. A native of the mythical land known as Silicon Valley, she has written about the technology industry for more than 20 years. She has worked in an odd mix of publications -- from National Geographic magazine to MacWEEK and Bloomberg News.
Rochelle Garner
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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to reboot the rules governing the internet. But critics say that will just destroy the regulations protecting net neutrality.

Aaron Robinson/CNET

It appears that bots are getting in on the great net neutrality debate of 2017, according to multiple reports, including CNET's sister site ZDNet.

At least one bot is thought to be posting more than 100,000 messages to the Federal Communications Commission's web page, urging the agency to roll back the net neutrality rules passed during the Obama administration. Many of those comments are identical, according to ZDNet.

"The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration imposed on the internet is smothering innovation, damaging the American economy and obstructing job creation," ZDNet quotes one comment. "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." The page currently isn't loading.

The bot appears to run through names in an alphabetical order, leaving someone's name, address and zip code, according to ZDNet.

The surge in comments, both pro and con, and can be traced to Sunday's airing of HBO's "Last Week Tonight," when comedian John Oliver railed against FCC Chairman Aji Pai's plans to dismantle current net neutrality regulations, and urged viewers to write comments on the FCC's webpage. The show even created the shortcut www.gofccyourself.com to help viewers bypass at least five steps to reach the correct comments page.

A flood of traffic crashed the FCC's webpage that evening, but the agency blamed the problem on a denial of service attack -- not on people complaining about a potential rollback. "These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC," the agency said in a statement.

Chairman Pai's efforts could have serious ramifications on how the internet works, rolling back regulations that gave the FCC authority to ensure that internet providers treat all online traffic equally. He revived the fight over net neutrality last month when he began circulating a proposal to throw out the legal underpinnings of the controversial 2015 rules, which tied itself to so-called Title II regulations designed for old phone networks.

The FCC will vote on the proposal on May 18. Passage would signal the end of net neutrality laws as we know them.