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NAB: FCC Should Extend Political File Requirement To All Stations

The National Association of Broadcasters, which has taken the FCC to court over its online political file posting requirement, told the commission Monday that it should hold off on the organization's petition to reconsider the requirement until after it had extended the requirement, as planned, to all TV stations starting July 1, 2014.

The statment would appear to put NAB in opposition to its own members, since the petitioners included Belo, Cox, Scripps, Hearst, Gannett, LIN, Meredith, Post-Newsweek, and Raycom.

But NAB had its reasons. The organization said it still believed that "the FCC lacks statutory authority to require online political files [big stations or small] and that the Order's asymmetric, broadcast-only public and political file requirements are arbitrary and capricious," but said it thought the FCC needed to see how the requirement applied to smaller stations with fewer resources so it can get a better idea of its impact.

Starting in Aug. 2, 2012, the FCC required the top four affiliated stations in the top 50 markets to put their political files online, and said it would extend that to all stations in July 2014, but only after seeking comment on the impact of the current requirement, which it has recently done.

NAB challenged the rules in the D.C. federal appeals court in May 2012.

TV broadcast groups had petitioned the FCC to reconsider the requirement and instead entertain a proposed modification whereby aggregate prices, rather than individual political spot prices, would be put online. They argued that would repair the principal defect of the requirement, which was the online disclosure of competitively sensitive pricing information among competitors.

But NAB asked the FCC to hold off on that petition until it had extended the requirement to all stations.

"NAB believes more information about the real-world effects of placing political files online is required before the Commission can reach a final decision on the merits of the changes proposed in the pending reconsideration petition," NAB said. "The Commission should keep the reconsideration petition on hold until stations of all sizes and types in all markets have experienced at least one election cycle under the online political file requirement."

Given that NAB said the political online file posting process for big stations had been "uneventful," it says it is concerned that "the experiences of the large stations that have been using the online political file may not accurately predict the effects of expanding the online file requirement to all broadcast television stations."

"Under these circumstances," said NAB, "it is not yet time for the Commission to decide whether the Television Station Group's reconsideration petition should be granted. Given the novelty of the online political file and the uncertainties involved in expanding that file to many more stations with fewer resources, the Commission should not resolve the petition until experience shows how small market stations and smaller stations in large markets will be affected by the new requirement, especially during election seasons."

Requiring the mandate to apply to all stations for a cycle would also prevent owners of network affiliates in major markets from having a reporting requirement not imposed on smaller affiliates and independents.