NAB Asks FCC to Wait to Change Online Public File System

WASHINGTON—When the FCC began requiring the largest television stations in the largest markets to upload their public files to a commission-created website last August, the agency asked for industry input on how the system is working — or isn’t.

Comments were due to the agency this week about its online public file system. The commission asked for input on the political file specifically, before smaller market stations and facilities not affiliated with a major television network must comply in 2014.

NAB challenged the new law in federal court. That petition for review remains on hold pending completion of the FCC’s comment cycle and the commission’s action on a reconsideration petition from a television station group.

This week, NAB told the FCC that while the limited experience of the 2012 election season has given the trade group some insights on the effect of the online political file, the effect will really be known only when all stations must post their files online. “The impact of this requirement is likely to be different and the experience more difficult for stations in smaller markets and those with fewer resources,” the trade group tells the commission.

Overall, the posting of political files was uneventful, writes NAB, however a small mistake can have large consequences. The trade group notes that some media buyers had “large sums” of money stolen from their bank accounts after some stations, following their long-standing practices, uploaded images of payment checks to their online political files. Similar or other unintended consequences may become more common as the number of stations posting their political files increases dramatically, says NAB.

That’s why NAB is asking the FCC to hold off on deciding on the merits of the changes proposed in the pending reconsideration petition until all stations in all markets have gone through “at least one election cycle” under the online political file requirement.

“Station personnel with limited resources to devote to maintaining the political file during these concentrated bursts of activity may, for instance, err on the side of including more information in the file than is necessary, which can have serious consequences when the information is posted immediately online. The example noted earlier of money stolen from media buyers is but one possibility,” notes NAB.

The broadcast trade group continues to believe compelling TV stations to post their public and political files online, when cable and satellite operators are exempt from doing so, is wrong because of the sensitive nature of the political advertising rates involved. “This regulatory and competitive disparity is only becoming more indefensible, as political advertising on other outlets increases,” according to NAB.