House Democrats are slamming Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai for waiting until last week to disclose that the agency's commenting platform crashed during the net neutrality proceeding due to an overload of comments -- and not, as the FCC previously reported, a cyberattack.
"It is troubling that you allowed the public myth created by the FCC to persist and your misrepresentations to remain uncorrected for over a year," Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (New Jersey), Mike Doyle (Pennsylvania), Jerry McNerney (California) and Debbie Dingell (Michigan) write in a letter sent to Pai Tuesday.
The letter comes one week after the FCC's Office of Inspector General issued a report about the reasons the agency's comment system crashed on May 7, soon after HBO aired "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver."
Oliver endorsed net neutrality on that program, and urged viewers to submit comments to the agency. Hours later, the FCC's comment system went down.
The agency publicly blamed the problem on a distributed denial-of-service attack, and Pai said in a June 15, 2017 letter to Congress that the agency was the victim of a "cyber-based attack."
But the Inspector General said last week that the crash was due to "apparent shortcomings" in the comment system, as opposed to a denial-of-service attack.
The lawmakers are now criticizing Pai for failing to correct the record sooner.
"Given the significant media, public, and Congressional attention this alleged cyberattack received for over a year, it is hard to believe that the release of the [Inspector General's] report was the first time that you and your staff realized that no cyberattack occurred," they write. "Such ignorance would signify a dereliction of your duty."
They add: "To the extent that you were aware of the misrepresentations prior to the release of the report and failed to correct them, such actions constitute a wanton disregard for Congress and the American public."
The lawmakers are now posing a series of questions to Pai, including when he learned that the comment system didn't crash due to a denial-of-service attack, and why he didn't inform Congress before last week.
Pai is expected to face similar questions on Thursday, when he is slated to testify at a Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing.