FCC Debuts Fresh Comment System

New ECFS gives users access to legacy files and improved search functionality
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It was a busy weekend for the Federal Communications Commission as it finalized the upgrade of its Electronic Comment Filing System.

Interested filers can expect to find improved usability, greater reliability, a streamlined process and increased accessibility, the FCC said, saying it is trying to set a standard for IT government agencies. The new system will give users access to all of the files stored in the legacy system as well as an improved search function that will better enable parties to find the filings they’re looking for.

By late Sunday evening, the new ECFS was up and running. In response to Radio World’s query today (Tuesday) asking for a status report, an FCC spokesperson emailed Radio World, “The new, modernized ECFS is effectively receiving and processing comments, and the comment archives have been successfully migrated to the new system. We have received some constructive feedback from users that has helped us identify small issues that have since been addressed. We continue to welcome feedback from users about any concerns or bugs they might encounter. … In general, the transition went well and as planned.”

Stylistically, the main page mimics the commission’s other newly redesigned pages — soothing colors, larger font sizes, easy-to-navigate input areas.

The new ECFS offers embedded tools such as text-to-speech functionality, fonts for dyslexia and color blindness, and a beta voice navigation experience.

The goal was to improve the public’s ability to engage with the commission on important issues, according to a blog post by Alison Kutler, chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, and Dr. David Bray, the FCC CIO, earlier this month. “To reach that goal, we have spent months engaging with external stakeholders from law firms, industry and public interest groups, the press and FCC staff to solicit their feedback on the new system.”

In 1996 when ECFS was created, it replicated the process of filing comments on paper, Bray and Kutler wrote. Now, the ECFS provides a public interface for several other purposes, the FCC said, including litigation of formal complaints, submission of petitions for rulemaking, submission of transfer-of-control applications, and other purposes that were not envisioned or supported by the original 1996 system.

The site also can accommodate a growing number of comments being filed. It will also have a public Application Programming Interface to allow outside groups to easily way to submit and pull comments in bulk.

A regular user of the site reported a more intuitive interface with the same key input fields — name of filer, law firm, date range — as well as a new field known as “specify proceeding.” When one types a proceeding number in that field, for example, the field is autopopulated with a dozen possible answers. For example, by inputting the proceeding number for the FCC’s EAS proceeding, which is 15-94, a list of 11 possible suggestions appear, with the accurate link listed first.

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