Despite Democrats’ breathless attacks against Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai over what he knew about the falsity of a cyberattack regarding comments on the Title II rollback, it turns out Pai was just following protocol.
In May 2017, the electronic comment filing system of the FCC’s website malfunctioned during the period that the commission was seeking public comments on its plan to roll back the Title II regulations placed on internet service providers during the Obama administration. Although Pai told a Senate committee on Thursday he suspected the cause of the malfunction was a flood of comments spurred by “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver’s plea to his audience to send the FCC their thoughts, Pai listened to his then-chief information officer David Bray, who said he was “99 percent confident” the breakdown was caused by multiple distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.
A report issued by the FCC’s inspector general, its internal watchdog, on Aug. 6 found that the issue was very likely caused by the flood of comments on “net neutrality” spurred by Oliver.
Paid told the Senate panel that the FCC wanted to provide the correct information sooner, but the inspector general asked him not to comment until after the investigation into possible criminal activity was complete.
“I made the judgment that we had to adhere to the request, even though I knew we would be falsely attacked for having done something inappropriate,” Pai said. “The story in this report vindicated my position.”
Pai issued a statement following the release of the inspector general report that said some people working under Bray (who was not named in the statement) disagreed with his viewpoint “yet didn’t feel comfortable communicating their concerns to me or my office.”
He said Congress has appropriated funding to reprogram the FCC’s filing system to prevent future issues and he is working on the culture of the office so that those working in information technology at the FCC are encouraged to speak up when they see an issue.
Prior to Thursday’s Senate hearing, four Democrats sent Pai a letter demanding answers and accusing the chairman of having a “wanton disregard for Congress and the American public.”
But the inspector general’s report shows that Pai was put in a tough position, and he chose to respect the wishes of investigators as well as show some loyalty to his staff. Despite Democrats’ assertions that another round of public comments would have made a difference, the FCC was always going to make the best decision for a free-and-open internet and remove the onerous Title II regulations. As Pai pointed out in the hearing, “it has been 67 days since the repeal. The Internet is still working.”