FCC records progress with public comments system

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifies in the Senate in June 2019. (Image credit: Aaron Schwartz/Shutterstock) 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifies in the Senate in June 2019. (Image credit: Aaron Schwartz/Shutterstock)

The Federal Communications Commission's problems with its public-facing public comment system boiled down to IT modernization issues, according to the Government Accountability Office.

On April 24, the GAO issued its public version of a report on the FCC's struggles with the Electronic Comments Filing System (ECFS). The FCC's ECFS had been crippled back in 2017 after controversy over the agency's handling of Net Neutrality rules changes drew a flood of comments to the system.

The public report follows GAO's initial report in September 2019 that had limited circulation because it included specific system security details.

In 2017, the FCC's controversial changes to net neutrality rules drew a sudden massive influx of traffic following a segment on an HBO show hosted by John Oliver that directed viewers to file comments with the agency.

Shortly after that, then-CIO David Bray characterized the outage as result of a deliberate distributed denial of service attack. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the Inspector General later notified him that those findings were potentially incorrect, but requested that information remain confidential as the investigation was referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. The imbroglio drew congressional attention, resulting in the GAO's report on ECFS.

In August, 2018, Pai acknowledged the incident wasn't due to a hack, but said it made it "abundantly clear" that the ECFS system needed to be upgraded.

The FCC, said the newly-issued GAO report, has made substantial progress in securing the cloud-based ECFS, but still has work to do to modernize it. The watchdog agency said the FCC had "effectively implemented security controls to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability" of the systems it examined, implementing 85 of the 136 recommendations it made in the earlier September 2019 report.

FCC Managing Director Mark Stephens told the GAO that the move to "Cloud Smart" initiatives has made making changes quicker and easier. Stephens said the agency plans to address GAO's remaining recommendations over the next 14 months "with full implementation by April 2021."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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