Yesterday, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing that broadcast radio licensees, satellite TV/radio licensees, and cable system operators move the bulk of their public inspection files online. The FCC previously adopted an online public file requirement for broadcast TV, and sees this as the logical next step.
The FCC noted that adoption of the online broadcast TV public file “represent[ed] a significant achievement in the Commission’s ongoing effort to modernize disclosure procedures to improve access to public file material.” As such, the FCC is proposing the same general approach for transitioning broadcast radio, satellite TV/radio, and cable system operators to an online public file.
Specifically, the FCC proposes to:
- require entities to upload only documents that are not already on file with the FCC or for which the FCC does not maintain its own database; and
- exempt existing political file material from the online file requirement and instead require that political file documents be uploaded only on a going-forward basis.
While the FCC indicates it is not generally interested in modifying the content of public inspection files in this proceeding, it does propose some new or modified public inspection file requirements, including:
- requiring broadcast radio, satellite TV/radio, and cable system operators to post online the location and contact information for their local public file;
- requiring cable system operators to provide information about the geographic areas they serve; and
- clarifying the documents required to be kept in the cable public file.
To address online file capacity and technical concerns related to the significant increase in the number of online file users that the proposed expansion will bring, the FCC seeks comment on:
- whether it should require that only certain components of the public file be moved online;
- any steps the FCC might take to improve the organization of the online file and facilitate the uploading and downloading of material;
- the amount of time the FCC should provide entities to upload documents to the online file;
- whether the FCC should adopt staggered filing dates by service (broadcast radio, satellite radio, satellite TV, and cable);
- whether to otherwise stagger or alter existing filing deadlines; and
- any other ways the FCC can improve performance of the online public file database.
With respect to broadcast radio, the proposed online public file rule would require stations to upload all documents required to be in the public file that are not also filed in CDBS (or LMS) or otherwise available at the FCC’s website. Just as with the online broadcast TV file, the FCC proposes to exempt letters and emails from the public from being uploaded due to privacy concerns, instead requiring that those documents continue to be maintained in the “paper” local public file.
The FCC “recognize[s] that some radio stations may face financial or other obstacles that could make the transition to an online public file more difficult.” In response, the FCC proposes to:
- begin the transition to an online public file with commercial stations in the top 50 markets that have five or more full-time employees;
- initially exempt, for two years, non-commercial educational (NCE) radio stations, as well as stations with fewer than five full-time employees from all online public file requirements; and
- permit exempted stations to voluntarily transition to an online public file early.
The Commission also is seeking comment on:
- whether it is appropriate to temporarily exempt other categories of radio stations from all online public file requirements, or at least from an online political file requirement;
- how the FCC should define the category of stations eligible for a temporary exemption;
- whether the FCC should permanently exempt certain radio stations, such as NCEs and stations with fewer than five full-time employees, from all online public file requirements; and
- whether the FCC should exclude NCE radio station donor lists from the online public file, thereby treating them differently than NCE TV station donor lists, which must currently be uploaded to the TV online file.
The FCC proposes to treat satellite TV/radio licensees and cable system operators in essentially the same manner as broadcast radio by requiring them to upload only material that is not already on file with the Commission. Because the only document these entities file with the FCC that must be retained in the public inspection file is the EEO program annual report (which the FCC will upload to the file), almost all material required to be kept by these entities in the online file will need to be uploaded.
Comments will be due 30 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register and reply comments will be due 30 days thereafter.