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NAB to FCC: Cable, DBS Should Join Political File Party

The National Association of Broadcasters says it is fine with the FCC extending its online political file mandate to all video services, including cable and satellite and even broadcast radio, though there are some issues with the last that might require a phased-in approach.

The FCC earlier this month opened a docket (14-127) and sought comment on a petition by the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and Sunlight Foundation to require cable and satellite operators to make their political files part of a national searchable database, as is the requirement for all TV stations since July 1. 

"The Commission should...act expeditiously to proceed with a rulemaking to require all cable and DBS systems to post their public and political files online," said NAB.

The FCC phased in the requirement for TV stations, starting with the top four in the top 50 markets before extending it to all TV stations July 1.

NAB fought the mandate for TV, but has always said that if the FCC were applying it, it was unfair not to apply it to its cable and satellite competitors.

The political file includes contracts for political ad buys, including prices. They have always been public, but previously only had to be kept at the local station. The FCC requirement is that they be uploaded to a searchable FCC database, which campaign finance reformers — notably Sunlight Foundation et al. have used to keep track on ad buys, though they have been pushing for even more disclosure in those files.

"The rate disclosure and public file requirements of Section 315 of the Communications Act, as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, apply not only to broadcast stations, but also to cable systems and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) operators as well," said NAB in its comments. "There is no reasoned basis for treating the public/political files of cable and DBS providers differently."

NAB even gives a shoutout to the growing competition from cable advertising. "[P]olitical spending on local cable increased 37.3% from 2010 to the 20126 – the same year that the top four affiliated television stations in the 50 largest markets were required to post their political files online. And local cable political spending is expected to further increase in 2014 to between $680 and $800 million, the same year that all television broadcast stations were required to begin posting their political files online.

"While these increases in local cable political advertising may or may not be directly attributable to the Commission’s current disparate online political file requirements, they clearly show the importance of regulating similarly situated entities in a comparable manner."