FCC Sets Comment Cycle for Online Public File Expansion

The Federal Communications Commission has announced comment dates for its proposal to expand its online public file requirements pertaining to political ads. Comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking are due March 16; reply comments are due April 14.

TV stations had been the only service required to post public inspection files to an FCC-maintained database. The agency had 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. but the FCC had signaled it was likely to extend the requirement.

In response to a petition filed by campaign finance reform groups seeking that extended online filing, the commission on Dec. 19 voted unanimously to propose requiring cable and DBS systems and broadcast and satellite radio to post their public files, including political files, in an FCC-administered online database.

The FCC is not requiring archival material to be uploaded, but only new material on a going-forward basis. 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.

The FCC conceded the move will incur a "modest," one-time transitional cost, but said 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.

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.

Cable political files 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 purchase, when they are scheduled and aired, and the rates and classes of time purchased."

For purchasers of issue ads, they must provide "the name of the purchasing organization and a list of the board of directors."

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.