The FCC has extended the deadline for the first round of comments regarding the issue of net neutrality. The comment system was overwhelmed on the final day, and users were receiving error messages for around 14 hours preceding the original deadline.
The Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) was not prepared to handle such large-scale use, despite earlier attempts to bolster the system in the face of comments coming in at an increasing rate. Over the course of the last day of comments, the system at times received over 2,000 submissions in a single hour.
"When the ECFS system was created in 1996, the Commission presumably didn't imagine it would receive more than 100,000 electronic comments on a single telecommunications issue," says FCC chief information officer David Bray.
The FCC is looking into options for upgrading the system. Meanwhile, the ECFS is still accepting submissions through July 18, and interested parties may also file comments by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. As of Tuesday afternoon, the FCC has already received a total of 780,000 comments.
"The number of people submitting comments is impressive, underscoring the importance of this issue and the critical role public engagement plays in the Commission's policy-making process," says Bray.
Most of the comments come from Internet users fighting for net neutrality rules that would restrict Internet service providers (ISPs) from giving preferential treatment to data from certain sources, likely sources that pay for the privilege. The overwhelming public response, supported by a number of tech companies, is an effort to counter the huge amount of money being spent by ISPs to oppose net neutrality regulations.
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast have each spent more than $14 million on lobbying so far. The top organizations opposing net neutrality have filed 472 lobbying reports between 2005 and 2013, while pro-neutrality groups filed only 176.
The open commenting is an attempt by the FCC to evaulate public opinion on the issue. Although most Internet users seem overwhelmingly pro-neutrality, the use of the comment system provides real data on users invested enough to go to the effort of speaking up. The commission claims that it will attempt to represent consumer interests as much as possible in any net neutrality proposal.