FCC Proposes Axing Last Local File Obligations

As expected, the FCC has voted, and unanimously for a change, to propose dropping the requirement that 1) TV and radio stations keep and make available copies of correspondence from viewers and listeners and that 2) cable operators publicize, generally, the location of their principal headend.

Scrapping those would eliminate the last vestiges of housing public files locally now that broadcast, cable and satellite all have online public file obligations.

The FCC still has to vote on the final order after putting the proposal out for comment. But, unlike many recent items, nary a discouraging word was heard at Wednesday's public meeting when the item was voted. "The proposed elimination of these rules will reduce regulatory burdens on commercial broadcasters and cable operators without adversely affecting the general public," the FCC said.

While the public doesn't need to know where the principal headend, and publicizing it could be a security threat, the FCC pointed out that TV stations and the FCC still need to know where it is, so sought comment on how it should be collected and made available to both.

"Four years ago the Commission’s public file policies got their first dose of modernity when the agency made it possible to move these files from old dusty cabinets in television broadcast studios to a new cloud-based online database," said commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. "Four months ago we offered up a second serving of the same when we took steps to permit radio, cable, and satellite providers to also post their public files online. 

"Today we continue on the same course by starting a rulemaking to cut the remaining elements of our public file requirements that still require paper files."

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler gave commissioner Michael O'Rielly credit for motor-manning the effort to eliminate the remaining local file obligations.

"As I have pointed out in the past, the need to maintain the required correspondence files on paper and make them available to anyone walking in from the street creates an unnecessary security exposure for broadcasters," said O'Rielly. "Likewise, including in cable public inspection files the location and designation of cable principal headends constitutes a potential security risk not only to cable operators’ physical office space and employees, but also to the headends themselves."

"ACA thanks Chairman Wheeler, Commissioner O'Rielly, and the other Commissioners for adopting a rulemaking notice that seeks comment on whether cable operators must continue to maintain a physical public file at its premises for the sole purpose of disclosing the location of their cable head-ends," said American Cable Association President Matt Polka. "Given that the FCC is now requiring the contents of a cable operator's physical public file to be posted online, eliminating the requirement to include a piece of paper containing a cable operator's head-end location in an otherwise empty physical file is a commonsense update to the rules."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.