FCC provides “bulk upload” option for adding even more comments to the million-plus already on file – now who’s going to read them all?

When last we took a sounding of the rising floodwaters of net neutrality comments, they were 1.1 million deep and more were pouring in. That was a month ago and, we’re pleased to report, the levees have apparently held. At least we assume that to be the case because the FCC has just announced, in effect, that it’s opening the dam upstream in an apparent effort to increase the flow of incoming comments.

In a blog post on the FCC’s website, the Commission’s Chief Information Officer advises that

[i]n the Commission’s embrace of Open Data and a commitment to openness and transparency throughout the Open Internet proceedings, the FCC is making available a Comma Separated Values (CSV) file for bulk upload of comments given the exceptional public interest.

If we’re understanding that correctly, the Commission is offering an express lane for the simultaneous submission of multiple comments (i.e., “bulk uploads”) to get them in the door even faster than might otherwise be the case. The need for that express lane isn’t immediately obvious: a quick spot-check in ECFS indicates that, since mid-August, comments have been flowing in smoothly, generally several thousand (occasionally more than 10,000) a day. With bulk uploads now available, we can look for that to increase.

But necessary or not, this development brings us back to something we have addressed before.

In our last post about Open Internet comments, we observed that it would take more than 40 years for an individual – working 52 40-hour weeks per year, and processing one comment every five minutes – to review the 1.1 million comments that had already come in. (Of course, even if such an individual could be found, conventional limits imposed by the Eighth and Thirteenth Amendments make that scenario unlikely in the extreme.)

But it now occurs to us that, in addition to being unrealistic, our calculation came at the problem all wrong.

That’s because we were assuming an open-ended time frame for completing the review. But as we all know, Chairman Wheeler would like to wrap up the Open Internet proceeding before the end of the year. So the variable to solve for is not the total time it would take; rather, the variable is the number of people it will take to complete the review in time to get an order adopted and released by December 31.

Time to bring out the CommLawBlog abacus!

Let’s assume that review of the comments has to be completed by November 30, which would leave a month for the FCC’s wordsmiths to crank out the item and for the Commission to adopt it by year’s end. Let’s also assume that review of the comments began on June 1, a couple of weeks after the Open Internet NPRM was released. And finally, let’s assume that, when all is said and done, a total of 1,250,000 comments will need to get reviewed, indexed, catalogued and contemplated, with each comment requiring an average of five minutes to process.

With 183 days from June through November, there would be just under 88,000 minutes during which 1,250,000 comments would need to get processed at our estimated five minutes per. No problem – all it would take would be to assign 70+ staffers to do nothing but review comments, full-time, eight hours a day, seven days a week (no weekends, no holidays).

Let’s put that in context. If you assemble all of the staffs of all of the Commissioners – including the Commissioners themselves – you’ve got about half the people necessary. If the Eighth Floor doesn’t want to get its hands dirty (or isn’t inclined to commit the requisite holidays and weekends), it could simply assign more than 10% of all the attorneys in all the FCC’s various offices and bureaus to take on the chore. Any way you slice it, the Commission would have to make a substantial commitment of staff to get the job done.

Has it done that? We don’t know. Even though we raised that question a couple of months ago, the Commission hasn’t bothered to clue us – or anybody else, as far as we know – in as to the process it’s using to review all the comments that are rolling in. The Commission touts its commitment to “transparency”, and has expressly assured that all comments will be reviewed. Given that commitment and those assurances, we figure that the Commission should be more than happy to describe how it’s reviewing all the incoming comments so that they will all be considered in the Commission’s final decision. We’ll let you know if we hear anything.