FCC "Lost" a Ton of Net Neutrality Public Comments

After opening up the internal debate on net neutrality to the public and receiving close to four million responses, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said over half a million comments went missing from the pile that the commission downloaded and shared with the public.

In a bid to present some sense of transparency over the controversial net neutrality debate, the FCC allowed the public to submit comments over a period of five months — a move that saw the organization receive a staggering 3.7 million comments, by far the most-commented upon issue in the FCC's history. It's also a figure that President Obama used in his speech to encourage the most stringent net neutrality rules.

However, when the agency converted those comments to the XML type that made it downloadable from their website so that the public had access to them, some 680,000 comments were lost in the process.

On Tuesday, acknowledging reports of the missing comments, the FCC addressed the incident. On the agency's official blog, Gigi B. Sohn, Special Counsel for External Affairs, and Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer, detailed, pretty hilariously, that their old, outdated system wasn't able to handle the barrage of comments it received.

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The blog post explained:

Before sharing those results [of the analysis of the debate], we think it’s important that people understand that much of the confusion stems from the fact that the Commission has an 18-year-old Electronic Comment Filing system (ECFS), which was not built to handle this unprecedented volume of comments nor initially designed to export comments via XML. This forced the Commission’s information technology team to cobble solutions together MacGyver-style.

While the report stated that the agency ultimately managed to accommodate the large number of public comments, there were some glitches, such as the unsuccessful conversion of files to XML. It added reassuringly,

We plan to fix this problem by issuing a new set of XML files after the New Year with the full set of comments received during the reply period.
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The vast number of comments that the FCC received regarding net neutrality is in big part due to the strong opponents of "Internet fast lanes" like Netflix and John Oliver — whose video on the issue went viral — as well as scores of websites that slowed down their web pages in protest and to raise awareness of the threat to the "open Internet."

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The FCC postponed voting on net neutrality from December to some time in 2015 when the Republicans officially take over Congress. The decision drew the ire of net neutrality supporters, who feared that it would give cable companies more time to lobby support in the GOP. According to PC World, some experts said the agency is set to decide on new rules as early as February, but few are willing to predict what it might entail.

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