For nearly 80 years, the FCC’s Rules have required broadcasters to file paper copies of various types of documents relating to the control and operation of their stations. Section 73.3613 of the FCC’s Rules requires broadcasters to file with the FCC certain contracts and instruments relating to network affiliations, present or future ownership or control, and some personnel agreements, as well as local marketing agreements (“LMAs”) and joint sales agreements (“JSAs”). Today, the FCC voted unanimously to eliminate this requirement.
The rule was originally created in the 1930s to make these documents more accessible to both FCC staff and the public. However, the advent of the online public inspection file has effectively rendered this octogenarian obligation obsolete. By March 1, 2018, all full-power TV, Class A TV, AM and FM broadcasters should have transitioned to the online public inspection file (“OPIF”), where they must either (i) upload all Section 73.3613 documents, or (ii) maintain an up-to-date list of those documents and provide a copy of any listed contract requested by a party within seven days of that request. Similarly, stations are required to list all Section 73.3613 documents in their Ownership Reports, which are then automatically linked by the FCC to station OPIFs.
In eliminating the requirement to file such documents with the Commission, the FCC reasoned that the paper filing rule not only imposed unnecessary burdens on stations, but was redundant with the OPIF and Ownership Report requirements; as a result, the requirement did little to serve the public. The FCC also observed that very few people actually visited its Reference Information Center, where all of these paper filings are maintained. Members of the public will continue to be able to obtain copies of Section 73.3613 agreements directly from stations by requesting them.
For their part, stations must remain diligent and update their OPIF contract lists within 30 days of the execution, termination, or amendment of any Section 73.3613 document. As we have previously discussed, timely filing is now particularly important because all OPIF uploads are timestamped, and late uploads are easy for FCC staff to spot at license renewal time.
Today’s Order also extends the FCC’s permitted redaction rules applicable to JSAs and LMAs to all Section 73.3613 documents. Section 73.3613 currently only addresses redaction of confidential or proprietary information in the context of JSAs and LMAs. In the past, stations have filed redacted copies of other contracts, as Section 0.459 of the FCC’s Rules allows certain materials to be withheld from public inspection. The amended Part 73 redaction rule will explicitly allow limited redaction of all Section 73.3613 documents.
Though these changes will certainly save broadcasters time and resources in the long run, broadcasters should continue filing Section 73.3613 documents with the FCC for the moment. Before the full rule change can go into effect, it must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget. In the past, such approvals have typically taken many months, so this rule change may well not go into effect until sometime next year.