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Sunlight: FCC Net Neutrality Comment Count Doesn't Add Up

The Sunlight Foundation has analyzed both batches of network neutrality comments released by the FCC, and says it can't reconcile its comment count with that of the FCC, which it suggested over-counted by hundreds of thousands of comments.

In an October blog post, the FCC said it got almost 4 million comments, including 2.5 million in a second batch released in October, and even pointed to Sunlight as one of the groups that had made use of the bulk data drop of those comments to analyze them. But Sunlight suggests the FCC comment count was way off. "As was true in round one, we fail to see how the FCC arrived at the count that was widely publicized. Clearly, 1.67 million documents is far short of 2.5 million," said Sunlight in a report on the comments.

Sunlight concedes that it is hard to be sure what the actual count is, which it attributes to the difficulty in parsing the comments given the format the FCC released them in, including a batch in which it was "almost impossible to separate comments from one another."

Still, said Sunlight, "we spent enough time with these files that we’re reasonably sure that the FCC’s comment counts are incorrect and that our analysis is reasonably representative of what’s there."

While it praised the FCC for its "good intentions" in releasing the data in bulk, it advised the commission that it needed to make some serious investment in technical infrastructure if it wants serious engagement with its data, which the FCC has signaled it does indeed want.

"The FCC is fully aware of the limitations of its 18-year-old comment system and is working to improve it," press secretary Kim Hart said. At a Hill oversight hearing earlier this year on the FCC's budget, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler suggested the FCC's IT system was a hodgepodge of incompatible and inefficient equipment, and a situation that a business in the private sector would never tolerate.

But Hart also pointed out that the FCC had provided new and unprecedented avenues for submitting comments, and uploaded them "as efficiently as possible". But emails sent to the Open Internet docket were not entered as individual files into but uploaded as a single PDF containing hundreds of comments, which may account for the difficulty in Sunlight replicating the FCC count.