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FCC Gets GOP Earful on Political File Item

With the FCC preparing to vote Friday on a pilot program for placing TV station public files, including political files, online, it was getting pushback from Republicans, including a top GOP spot-buyer.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, three House Energy & Commerce Committee Republicans, including two top Communications Subcommittee members, said they were concerned the FCC was rushing the vote.

In the letter, Reps. Cliff Stearns (Fla.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) -- both on the subcommittee -- and Brian Bilbray (Calif.) said that the FCC had not adequately assessed the cost and burdens associated with the proposal.

Such an assessment is part of FCC reform legislation (HR 3309) that passed the House but is likely going nowhere else.

In addition for advising the FCC to do such an analysis first, they put in a plug for requiring an aggregate figure rather than individual political spot prices, as the FCC is proposing. Broadcasters and Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell have also advocated for the aggregate total, though an attorney source said Wednesday it looked as though a broadcaster compromise that would include aggregate totals rather than individual prices had not made headway.

Broadcasters argue that sensitive price information in a national database puts them at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis cable and print competitors under no similar disclosure obligation.

The legislators also point out that the FCC's initial draft requested stations supply files to the FCC -- which is maintaining the online database -- in their native formats rather than PDFs, and asks if the commission has assessed the station resources it would take. FCC officials have told B&C/Multi that the item being voted will allow for PDFs.

Elsewhere on the political file front, Republican political ad buyer Target Enterprises urged the commission this week to delay adopting the item, complaining that it was being vote on less than three weeks after the FCC floated details of the program in the newspaper. It cited the Third Circuit Appeals court smackdown of the FCC's newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rules under Kevin Martin as argument against rushing to a vote. The court found that Martin's floating of the details of his ownership proposal only a few weeks before the vote did not constitute sufficient public notice.

Target, echoing broadcaster complaints, also said that the FCC had failed to fully consider "the anti-competitive and market-distorting effects of placing details of sensitive political ad rate information online in real-time."

Target threw in a couple of more reasons not to put political online files whenever the FCC votes on it, suggesting it would put a target on media buyers' backs.

Posting the files online, the company wrote, would do "irreparable harm to companies such as Target, whose trade secrets will be exposed by the Commission's proposal," not to mention "compromised privacy rights and the chilling effect on speech that will be caused by placing the details of political ad buying online in real-time."

At a Media Institute lunch in Washington, FCC Media Bureau Chief said that one thing the National Association of Broadcasters Show would be noted for was the "overhang of controversy" surrounding the online public file proposal. He said it had been undertaken as "a simple matter of updating to new technology," but that "awoke greater concern than expected." He added that, contrary to the popular saying, what happened in Vegas did not stay there.