FCC releases 1.1 million ‘fast lane’ comments

The Federal Communications Commission is releasing all 1.1 million comments it has received so far on a proposal for new Internet regulations in an easily accessible format for the public to explore.

While the comments were previously accessible through the commission’s electronic filing system, the website is universally considered to be clunky and difficult to navigate.

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The downloadable, easy-to-search comments, the FCC hoped, would make it easier for journalists, researchers and other people to find individual comments or connect themes in them.

Gigi Sohn, the FCC’s special counsel for external affairs, wrote in a blog post on Tuesday that the commission is “hoping that those who do have the technical know-how will develop and share these tools for the public to use.”

“Open Data is an important step towards greater transparency in public deliberations,” she added. “We look forward to seeing and benefitting from the fruits of your efforts and welcome your ideas on how to make this data even more useful.” 

The commission’s new net neutrality proposal, which seeks to ensure that all Internet traffic is treated equally online no matter which websites people are visiting, has been debated everywhere from the halls of Congress to comedian John Oliver’s HBO show.

Critics of the proposal have feared that it would allow Internet service providers like Comcast to strike deals with companies like Netflix to create “fast lanes” for their subscribers on heavily trafficked websites.

The plans have generated more public comments than any other rulemaking proceeding in the commission’s history.

The first round of comments closed last month. The second window for public input closes in September.  

Sohn said in her blog post that the FCC hoped that making the first batch of comments easily accessible “will contribute to an even more informed and useful” new round of messages.

Michael Weinberg, vice president of the consumer interest group Public Knowledge, called Tuesday’s move “a big step towards helping everyone understand public opinion around net neutrality. “