FCC upgrades online comment system

Commission completes three-year upgrade to ECFS

The Federal Communications Commission has completed a three-year upgrade of its Electronic Comments Filing System (ECFS) and has converted more than seven million pages of documents into text-searchable files, Bill Cline, director of the FCC's information reference center, said today.

Other changes include the ability to download an entire docket, request an RSS feed and advanced search features, he said.

Users now can search the system by key word, docket number, date or other indicator. Previously, the search system was limited in functionality and described as very difficult and cumbersome to use. "This is a marked improvement,” Cline said.

Meanwhile, some users seem enthusiastic. “I’m generally pleased that they took the time to turn all the image files and turned them into text-searchable files,” said Berin Michael Szoka, a senior fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation. “That is a major step forward.”

Matthew Lasar, a technical writer and contributor to Ars Technica, called it an “impressive upgrade” in a review posted Oct. 25 and said the new ECFS “offers far more searching capability, formatting flexibility and bookmarking power than ever before.”

The FCC originally deployed the electronic filing system in 1998. The entire system spans 1.5 million filings that were all converted into an Adobe Acrobat image-plus-text files for the upgrade, Cline said. The new system also was made compliant with Section 508 requirements for accessibility for disabled people, he said.

Szoka said there are still some limitations in the enhanced system. For one, although full dockets can be downloaded, there are limitations in downloading the results of text-based searches. In such a search, the system produces a list of Web links, which can be downloaded individually. Ideally, the system ought to enable a download of all the links at once, Szoka said.

Cline said the Google search appliance did not allow for such a capability, but he said he is willing to investigate additional functionalities and capabilities for the system for the next upgrade.

“People can send in their requirements and we will try to add those features,” Cline said.

The FCC recently debuted some new social media tools to increase public participation and transparency. However, there were questions about the commission's priorities because of the poor functionality of the previous version of the electronic comment filing system.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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