Adviser: FCC Isn't the Place for Big Data Experimentation


A tough regulatory environment might discourage experimentation with data, according to an adviser to the commission.

Communicating the value of playing around with data is a challenge in the federal government, according to a senior adviser at the Federal Communications Commission.

When asked recently what the best way is to convince agency leadership to take on data pilots, especially when outcomes are unclear, Tony Summerlin told an audience in Washington that "saying that you can do something else with the data, which is not what they envisioned [being] the outcome, is really hard."

FCC staff has been able to do "little experiments" with data, Summerlin said. That includes analyzing the roughly 4 million public comments submitted on the FCC website about net neutrality, identifying which groups were most likely to use swearwords, for instance. The FCC released data about the comments so outside groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, could analyze it further, he added. 

Federal employees, Summerlin said, will likely have to "open someone's eyes to another use of data, but in a regulatory environment like ours, it's very specific what you're supposed to use that data for."

The FCC "would not be the place where that kind of experimentation would work," Summerlin told the audience -- though he said he suspected, based on past experience in other agencies and in the White House, the culture is different. 

"We got to play with data however we wanted to," he said, adding later, "experimentation like that is what leads to great outcomes."

(Image via HerrBullermann/