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FCC Proposes Online Public File Rules for Radio

As the radio industry enters the new year, the FCC is proposing to usher in a new online public file system for radio stations

As the radio industry enters the new year, the FCC is proposing to usher in a new online public file system for radio stations. In December, the commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes to revise its online public inspection file rules currently imposed only on television stations to now include satellite, along with most cable systems and radio stations.

The current rules for television stations require the posting of public inspection files on an online filing system maintained by the FCC. While applications, EEO and ownership reports and authorizations are pulled directly from the FCC”s CDBS filing system, other documents such as issues/program lists and annual EEO public inspection file reports are uploaded manually by the stations to the online public file.

The FCC proposes similar requirements for radio stations. In doing so, the commission recognized that there are certain necessary changes to accommodate radio services. For example, the FCC is seeking comment on how to provide copies of the contour maps for AM stations. Because AM contour maps are not easily generated from the FCC”s records, the agency is considering a requirement that would have AM licensees upload their contour maps when they transition to the new system.

Stations would not be required to upload documentation that is already in their public files when the rules go into effect. So, with respect to the station”s political file, the FCC would not require the past two years” worth of information to be uploaded upon the effective date of the new rules. Moreover, the FCC is proposing to exempt the posting of letters from the public, but will require the inclusion of NCE radio station donor lists in the online file.

The FCC”s current online public file system is organized by subject matter folders for each station (i.e. authorizations, applications). The political file is organized by year and type of advertisement. The FCC is proposing to carry over this structure for the radio online filing system, but seeks comment on any necessary changes.

To ensure that the public is aware of the online public file, the FCC proposes to require radio stations with websites to post a link to the online public file maintained by the commission. The FCC is also considering a rule that would require publication on a station”s website of a contact person that could receive comments or questions from the public regarding the station”s public file.

Most significantly, the FCC is proposing to use a staggered implementation schedule. The initial requirements would only be imposed on commercial radio stations in the top 50 markets that have more than five full-time employees. Subsequently, the new rules would be imposed on the remainder of the commercial radio stations, and NCE stations two years thereafter. The FCC believes that this schedule would reduce the impact on smaller stations, and also serve to protect the online filing system from being overloaded during the implementation period.

Interested parties can either file comments electronically through the ECFS website, or they may file on paper. In either case, the heading of the submission should reference MB Docket No. 14-127.

EEO Reminder � The FCC takes seriously the requirement for all broadcast stations to follow the EEO rules and widely disseminate notices of job openings. In late December, the FCC dropped coal into the stockings of two broadcasters that had failed to disseminate job openings widely to outside referral sources, and failed to conduct self-assessments of the success of their EEO referral sources. In addition, one station failed to provide notice to referral sources that had specifically requested such notices, which is a separate violation of the FCC”s EEO rules. Since stations will be filing their mid-term EEO reports starting this year, the ability to certify compliance with the FCC”s EEO rules will be very important.

Petro is of counsel at Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP. Email: [email protected]