O'Rielly Pushes to End Correspondence File

If FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly has his way, and he just might, broadcasters will no longer have to keep hard copies of the public files they now have to upload to an FCC online database.

In a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters State Leadership Conference in Washington Tuesday, O'Rielly said that the last remaining obstacle to moving all the files online was the correspondence file--consumer letters to the station--because of the personal information the letters contain. But O'Rielly has suggested that such information could be redacted.

The commissioner said that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has agreed to open a proceeding to consider eliminating the correspondence file requirement "completely," meaning stations would not have to archive that consumer correspondence. That should pave the way to an online only public file.

"In order to realize the full potential of this transition we need to make sure broadcasters can actually make a full transition," he said. "If the records are online, there should be no more need to make a physical paper file available to anyone who walks into a station. The old system subjected station personnel to a real security vulnerability that had to be tolerated in the name of transparency.  But with an online filing system, we can and should fix this problem."

Broadcasters have cited allowing people into the station to view the files as a possible security risk. Then there is the possibility of mischief--someone removing files, then citing a station for not keeping complete files--the FCC can and will fine stations for incomplete public files.

In a blog post last fall. O'Rielly said that on a visit to Alaska, he had "learned of repeated attempts by one individual to remove documents from a station’s public file with the hopes of catching the broadcaster out of compliance with FCC rules," adding: "Just imagine if that person refused to exit or pulled a knife when the station personnel prevented the malicious act.

The FCC recently voted to expand its TV station online public file requirements to radio, cable and satellite.  

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.