FCC Ready for Cable, Satellite, Radio to Pony Up Files

The FCC has signaled a final vote Jan. 28 on its proposal to require radio, cable and satellite to post public inspection files, including political files, online. That could come in time for campaign finance watchers to scope out their poltiical files as they currently do broadcasters.

That was one of the items on the FCC's tentative agenda released late Thursday. Another was a look at broadband deployment.

In December 2014, the commission approved a proposed rulemaking that requires cable and DBS systems and radio stations (and XM-Sirius) to post their public files, including political files, in an FCC-administered online database.

TV broadcasters already have to file records of political ad buys to a searchable, FCC-hosted database (the FCC has said it has had millions of hits on that database), but the FCC held off extending that requirement, and other public file requirements — like EEO, children's TV and more — to cable and satellite operators, which are all still required to keep those files available for public inspection locally.

"This proposal does not include new disclosure requirements and would lower long-term costs for industry," Wheeler blogged of the planned vote. "This modernization of the public inspection file is plain common sense.  The evolution of the Internet and the expansion of broadband infrastructure have transformed the way society accesses information today. Most important, the public will gain greater transparency and easier access to the information contained in the public files.

If the final item passes as voted in December, the FCC will not to require archival material to be uploaded, but only new material going forward, as was the case with TV broadcasters. The FCC will require cable operators to provide information about the geographic areas they serve, and require cable, DBS, broadcast radio and XM-Sirius to provide location and local contact information for their local flies.

Beyond that, the FCC said it simply wanted to extend the current requirements to an online format.

The FCC suggested that while the move will incur a "modest," one-time transitional cost, that is outweighed by the public benefit of online disclosure, and will eventually lower costs by replacing paper files that need to be curated at the station or system with electronic files.

Again, if the item dovetails with the proposal voted in 2014, cable operators with fewer than 1,000 subs will be exempt from online filing of "political file, sponsorship identification, EEO records, and children’s commercial programming records.” Systems with 1,000-5,000 subs will have to upload political files but can provide other information on request.

There is some concern among cable operators that the FCC may be trying to cut out that "on request" language for those systems so that they, too, will be required to file.

Cable political files will have to have similar information to TV station files, which means a “complete and orderly record…of all requests for cablecast time made by or on behalf of a candidate for public office including the disposition of such requests." They will also have to include a schedule of spots purchased, when they are scheduled and aired, and the rates and classes of time purchased.

Also at the Jan. 28 meeting, the commissioners will consider a 2016 Broadband Progress Report looking at whether advanced telecom is being deployed in a reasonable and timely manner.

If not, and the FCC has concluded "not" in the most recent reports, the commission can assert its regulatory authority--though to what degree is a matter of debate--to bring that about.

The commission under recent Democratic chairs has concluded that, essentially, until broadband is ubiquitous, it won't meet that definition.

A third item is on improving the Emergency Alert System.

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.