FCC blames its old technology for net neutrality commenting woes

Call it irony for the digital age: The group responsible for the fate of what’s perhaps our most important modern technology, the Internet, has been hamstrung by its outdated website in its quest to write new net neutrality rules.

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC), on Tuesday, cited old IT systems as the reason for several technical glitches that forced the Commission to push back a key deadline in its net neutrality rulemaking, according to an FCC official who emailed the Daily Dot under a condition of anonymity.

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As part of its rulemaking process on net neutrality, the FCC is required to give the public a chance to comment on its proposal.

Spurred on by open Internet activists and late night comedian John Oliver, Internet users electronically submitted upwards of 780,000 comments to the FCC on the issue as of Tuesday. But that number might have been even larger if not for some technical glitches.

Specifically, the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) collapsed under the weight of heavy traffic for a period of time on Tuesday.

In addition, a number of users of the website Reddit, which has been a main rallying point for net neutrality support, complained that their once-public comments were erased from the ECFS.

In a Monday blog post about the number of comments it had received about net neutrality, the FCC said that its online commenting system was created in 1996, when “the Commission presumably didn’t imagine it would receive more than 100,000 electronic comments on a single telecommunications issue.”

Indeed, the FCC did not deny any of the technical glitches, including the redditors’ disappearing comments, but it did insist that the problems were not the result of any attempt to game the rulemaking process.

“No one’s trying to hide the ball here,” Gigi Sohn, the FCC’s special counsel for external affairs, told the Daily Dot.

In his most recent budget proposal to Congress, FCC Chiarman Tom Wheeler requested additional funding to bolster the Commission’s IT staff.

The initial “public comment” period was set to end Tuesday, but the FCC extended the deadline until Friday, July 18.

“Not surprisingly, we have seen an overwhelming surge in traffic on our website that is making it difficult for many people to file comments through our Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS),” FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart said in a statement.

As it turns out, the Tuesday-turned-Friday time limit for commenting is more of a soft deadline, as the FCC has scheduled another period of time extending through Sept. 10 for the public to reply to the initial batch of comments. The public can still submit new comments during the reply period.

The rounds of commenting are part of the FCC proposal on whether Internet service providers will be able to create a so-called Internet fast lane, or if they should be more heavily regulated, like telephone providers. Wheeler has said he intends to have Open Internet new rules in place by the end of the year.

Photo by hdaniel/Flickr (CC By SA-2.0)

Fran Berkman

Fran Berkman

Fran Berkman is a technology reporter whose work for the Daily Dot focused on cryptocurrencies and internet freedom. In April 2017, he joined BuzzFeed as the deputy director of news curation.