John Oliver may have gotten heaps of attention for his 13-minute early-June jeremiad on network neutrality that called viewers to contact the Federal Communications Commission to urge it to protect the Internet. But new data from the FCC reveals that Oliver's call-to-arms pales in comparison to that other great force in American life: dilly-dallying.
The commission has been aggressively pushing out data that provides insight into the historic 3.7 million comments that federal regulators have received as they go about crafting rules on their open Internet agenda. And a new batch of those numbers reveals that there was, indeed, a spike in comments submitted through its electronic comment system after the June 1 segment; there were just 612 on the Saturday before the show, 9,673 on the Sunday it aired, and 14,899 that Monday. (Insert here the necessary 'correlation is not causation' caveat. It's also worth noting that Oliver show, in fact, had little noticeable effect on the number of comments filed by e-mail, rather the commission's Web-based system.) And Oliver seems to have set off a long-lasting ripple effect; nearly three weeks elapsed before the level of comments dropped down to pre-show levels.
But a far bigger upsurge was triggered by a natural regulatory deadline: the July 15 deadline for the first round of comments. On that day -- despite the fact that the FCC's decades-old electronic commenting system ground to a near-halt as contributors first filed and then searched for their own submissions* -- some 18,740 comments were added. And on the next day, after the comment deadline was extended, a full 52,353 poured in.
The wait-until-the-very-last-second effect is even more noticeable when the second round of comments (known in the business as reply comments) closed on Friday. Pro-neutrality advocates rallied around that day as one of "Internet Slowdown," and while it's difficult to know the effect it had without more granular data, there's a fair chance it worked. On that day, a whopping 169,847 comments rained upon the FCC.
So by admittedly questionable math, that makes the fact that a deadline is looming some 3.2 time more powerful that the fact that a cable television comedian is calling for civic participation.
Never, though, discount the capacity of Americans to wait until the rules say that, technically and such, it's simply too late: On the day after the FCC's net neutrality filing deadline had officially passed, more than 12,000 electronic comments came in.
But here's a clue on why we wait as we do: According to the FCC, those comments will still be submitted into the official record.
*Update: This sentence was adjusted to clarify which of the FCC's technologies responded slowly during the mid-July rush.