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John Oliver is urging internet users to defend net neutrality

Oliver seems to have already overwhelmed the FCC’s servers.

2017 Garden Of Laughs Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty

The net neutrality debate has returned — and so has HBO’s John Oliver.

Later this month, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission under Republican Chairman Ajit Pai will kick off a process to scrap the open internet protections imposed by the Obama administration in 2015.

As the agency does, however, “Last Week Tonight” host Oliver has issued another call to action, encouraging web users to write the FCC to ensure it keeps “strong net neutrality rules” on its books.

And, once again, it appears Oliver’s rallying cry might have overwhelmed the agency’s website: This morning, the link he created to direct net neutrality fans to an FCC hub where they can comment did not load — and the agency’s comment filing search system appeared to be experiencing trouble.

Update, 3:35 pm ET: The FCC, for its part, attributed the apparent slowdown to a distributed denial-of-service attack, but did not respond to questions, including about the potential origin of the attack.

For veterans of the net neutrality fight, Oliver’s message may feel like a bit of déjà vu. When the FCC under Obama sought to impose net neutrality rules that might have allowed internet providers to charge web companies for faster delivery of their content, Oliver blasted the agency’s chairman, Tom Wheeler. Droves of internet users soon flooded the commission with comments, and by the end of the FCC’s debate, nearly four million had sent in their views. (“I am not a dingo,” Wheeler proclaimed at the time.)

But the Democratic chairman still acknowledged that the uptick in comments reflected “the high level of interest in the topic.” In the end, he backed away from an approach to net neutrality that might have allowed so-called “online fast lanes.” Instead, he chose to subject AT&T, Charter, Comcast* and Verizon to some of the same rules that apply to old-school telephone companies, using a provision of law known as Title II, which Oliver referenced in his tweet.

For his part, Pai stressed to Recode last week that “not all four million” comments received by the FCC during its last net neutrality debate “were in support of the rules.”

Asked about another Oliver-like blowback to his plans, the Republican chairman said the FCC must have “substantial evidence” justifying its work, adding “there’s no numerical threshold the courts have applied” to evaluate if regulators act appropriately.

* Comcast, through its NBCUniversal arm, is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this website.

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