FCC would ‘explode’ under new public outrage

If the Federal Communications Commission ever again does anything as high profile as its net neutrality rules, its systems might not make it.

“The portals might explode,” joked Gigi Sohn, a top aide to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

“If we had to do this again, I don’t know what would happen.”

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Sohn on Wednesday said that the commission was “unprepared in a number of ways” for the massive public backlash that it faced over the last year, as it worked on the Web regulations.

Starting when the initial word got out that the FCC was pursuing relatively weak rules that would have opened the door to “fast lanes" on the Internet, the public response was swift and vocal. Ultimately, Wheeler and the FCC’s two other Democrats voted in favor of much tougher rules that treat the Internet like a public utility, which supporters say was the only possible way to truly prevent Web providers from interfering with people’s unfettered access to the Internet.

In the end, the FCC received about 4 million public comments on its regulations, far surpassing the previous high set after Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 20014 Super Bowl.

Twice during the process, the agency’s electronic commenting system — which has long the object of scorn from users and journalists — crashed.

“Four million is certainly an eye popping number when it comes to comments in a single proceeding, [however] modern computers should be able to handle that load without blinking,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said during a House subcommittee hearing on the FCC’s budget on Wednesday.

The net neutrality rules probably won’t be the end of the public’s involvement at the FCC, Sohn said.

“Communications policy issues are no longer a backwater, if they ever were,” she said. “The public cares deeply about these issues and will act on them.”

In order to make sure that the FCC’s systems are better prepared next time around, Sohn said that the agency needed more funding. Many of its technology systems are a decade old, officials have noted, which has caused a severe lag. 

Republicans have been skeptical of that argument, and suspect that some money may have been spent unwisely. 

Updated at 4:55 p.m.