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FCC Chair Proposes to Launch Political File Online Reporting With Top Market Phase-In

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is teeing up an order for the April 27 public meeting requiring TV stations to put their public files, including political files online, according to FCC officials, but with a two-year transition period or the added political file reporting in which that requirement will only apply to the top four network affiliated stations in the top 20 markets. After that, it will apply to all stations.

The order is the result of a notice of proposed rulemaking on disclosure requirements launched last October.

According to FCC officials, those 200 or so stations required to start uploading the political files right away, or as soon as the order can be published and its info-collection requirements vetted by the GAO, account for about 60% of the money spent on campaign ads in an election year, so it is capturing a large chunk of that spending.

The order would not require stations to place any of their old political files -- which can go back a couple of years -- online, for to convert them to machine-readable, easily searchable documents.

Smaller stations will still be able to seek a waiver for hardship or technical reasons, but one official pointed out that the smaller stations will generally have to file fewer documents, given that 60% of political advertising that stays in the top markets. Small stations that might have a bigger financial or technological burden to comply will likely not get many ads, they pointed out.

The order will essentially require stations to start putting their public files -- including EEO and kids TV reports -- online, but does not add any new categories of reporting.

The FCC action is responsive to one of the key takeaways of its Information Needs of Communities report.