Television broadcasters have had to comply with an online Public Inspection File requirement since 2012. This past January, the FCC announced that it would expand the online Public File requirement to certain broadcast radio, satellite radio, cable system, and DBS operators. Today, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing the effective date of that new obligation. It also announced that it has established a new filing system, the Online Public Inspection File (“OPIF”), for use by these newly-covered entities, as well as by television broadcasters who until now have been using the existing online Broadcast Public Inspection File (“BPIF”).
The entities that are newly covered by the online Public File requirement will begin use of the new system in two “waves,” with larger entities going first and having a phase-in period, and smaller entities going later, but having no phase-in period. There are lots of dates to keep track of, which include:
- Today, May 12, 2016: the New Online Public Inspection File is available for preview at https://publicfiles-demo.fcc.gov/admin/
- To Be Announced: FCC Webinar Demonstrating Use of OPIF
- June 24, 2016: Public Inspection File documents (including Political File documents) created on or after this date must be uploaded to OPIF by the “first wave” of newly-covered entities:
- Commercial radio stations that have five or more full-time employees and are located in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets
- DBS providers
- SDARS licensees
- Cable systems with 1,000 or more subscribers (except with respect to the Political File, for systems with fewer than 5,000 subscribers)
- June 24, 2016: OPIF use by full-power and Class A television stations becomes mandatory and BPIF use is disabled
- The FCC says it will transition television stations’ existing documents from the BPIF to the OPIF automatically by this date
- December 24, 2016: Public Inspection (but not Political) File documents created prior to June 24, 2016 must be uploaded to the OPIF by the “first wave” entities listed above
- March 1, 2018: A “second wave” of newly-covered entities must begin use of OPIF for all newly created Public Inspection and Political File documents and upload all existing Public Inspection (but not Political) File documents. The “second wave” consists of:
- All NCE radio stations
- Commercial radio stations that have fewer than five full-time employees and are located in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets
- Commercial radio stations located outside of the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets, regardless of staff size
- Cable systems with between 1,000 and 5,000 subscribers, with respect to newly-created Political File documents only
Commercial broadcast licensees must continue to retain letters and emails from the public at their main studios; the FCC will not let them be posted in the online public file. However, as we noted last week, the FCC is circulating a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes eliminating such letters and emails from the public file entirely.
The Public Notice announces that the OPIF will include a number of technical improvements not found in the BPIF system currently used by television licensees. According to the FCC, these improvements are meant to allow stations to better manage their online files, including implementing APIs to enable the upload of multiple documents from a third-party website and permitting a document to be placed into multiple folders. OPIF will also feature improved .pdf conversion software to speed uploads, and allow more flexibility to delete empty folders.
While radio stations have been nervously gearing up to face the new frontier of online public files, TV stations may be a bit surprised that the online file is changing for them as well. Particularly surprised will be those TV stations who haven’t been following these developments and who try to log into the old public file system on July 10 to file their quarterly reports. Whether you are a TV or radio broadcaster, or a cable, DBS, or SDARS provider, now is the time to start learning how OPIF will work; it’s not a BPIF world anymore.