WATCH | In 2014, the FCC received 4.1 million public comments about net neutrality. The way things are now, it would take years for the government agency to read all the comments. New software hopes to automize that process.
In 2014, when the Federal Communications Commission proposed a new regulation on net neutrality, it received 4.1 million comments from the public through www.regulations.gov and via mail.
If someone had actually read all the comments by hand, it would've taken at least 10 years, according to John Davis, founder of Regendus, a software company that's trying to reduce that number.
"We did a calculation of an average price. If it only took them 15 minutes each, that’s a $50 million bill," said Davis.
Regendus uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to parse through public comments. Green is pro and red for con.
A possible solution?
Regendus software, which launched in January, is developed by the company Notice & Comment and analyzes what people are saying so that humans don't have to.
Powered by Natural Language Processing (NLP) and IBM Watson Explorer, it can categorize comments by sentiment and identify duplicate comments.
Davis says it can do this "10,000%" faster than it's being done right now. In other words, in a matter of hours.
Regendus only has clients in the private sector right now, but it's adamant its technology can reduce costs in government.
Their goal? "To help the government make better decisions related to what your sentiment is when you propose things."
Regendus estimates it could process 4.1 million public comments for under $1 million. Circa could not verify how much money the FCC spent to read the comments (or if it even read them).
Right now, to submit comments on regulations, citizens must go to regulations.gov. The agency in charge of the rulemaking receives your comment and looks through it manually.
'It's a huge time saver'
Andrew Pendleton is a software engineer and data analyst who had to build custom software following the FCC's net neutrality proposal for non-profit Sunlight Foundation.
He says he can't imagine anyone reading so many comments, because it's virtually impossible. "That would be hugely time consuming. The timelines are usually pretty short for the agencies to deal with these rulemakings, so it's a big deal."
Digitizing the public commenting process would not only be a time and money saver; it's also the wave of the future, as more and more countries go into e-government, according to Bill Eggers, government consultant and author of "Delivering on Digital: A Guide to Government Transformation."
"If governments have better ways of tapping into that collective intelligence, they're able to actually make much smarter decisions and much better decisions."