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FCC Starts to Move TV Public Files Online... Again.

WASHINGTON: TV stations inspection files are on their way to cyberspace. Again. Possibly. The Federal Communications Commission today took a step to move what’s traditionally been a pile of paper to the Internet. The commissioners approved a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to require commercial and noncommercial TV stations to submit their public-inspection details to an online file hosted by the FCC.

The agency tried in 2007 to move public inspection files to the Internet, but the rules included an “Enhanced Disclosure” form that broadcasters challenged in court. Form 355, as it was known, required a list of all programming streams and the average number of hours for each of HD programming, national and local news plus details on each; civic affairs shows, local election coverage, independently produced programming, PSAs, closed-captioning and other local content, in addition to whether or not three or more hours per day was provided by another station.

Broadcasters said, “Get out.” The court said, “Word.”

Today’s FNPRM vacates the 2007 Order and “proposes to streamline the information broadcasters will need to provide by requiring the commission to import information already filed with the FCC, and exempts certain items from being posted online such as letters and emails from the public,” the FCC announcement said. “It further seeks comment on posting sponsorship identification information, now disclosed only on-air, and shared services agreements online as part of the public inspection file hosted by the commission.”

Just what information broadcasters will be expected to provide was not divulged. The full text of the order was not posted by press time. Davis Wright Tremaine LLP’s David Oxenford says a separate Notice of Inquiry regarding a substitute for Form 355 is floating around the commission now.

Regulators are not kidding about TV station public inspection files. KCET-TV in Los Angeles was slapped with a $10,000 fine earlier this year for not providing access to its public inspection file to an FCC field agent. Radios have to have them, too. An unmanned Florida station was slapped with a $25,000 fine last year for both the absence of a human being and a neglected public inspection file.

Of the four voting commissioners, only Robert McDowell dissented in part because of his animus toward Form 355. He said he hoped the commission wasn’t going down that road again.

The Docket No. for the public inspection file FNPRM is 11-162.
~ Deborah D. McAdams