WASHINGTON A new consolidated online licensing and application system at the Federal Communications Commission is still in the development stages but several public workshops have left some industry users optimistic about its potential.
The FCC Media Bureau’s overhaul of its online licensing database, the Computerized Database System or CDBS, will result in a new database with a single consolidated form for filing applications and license requests, enhanced filing applications tools and consolidated search capabilities.
The Computerized Database System has been a source of frustration for some broadcasters and others associated with the industry since it was launched in 2000, when it replaced three separate tabular databases. Some users of the new electronic system complained at the time about confusing templates, corrupt data, limited data sharing capability and search capabilities. The FCC acknowledged that CDBS was not perfect when it was launched, according to Radio World reporting at the time.
Many of its initial flaws — which some blamed on an outside contractor — have since been cleared up, industry observers say.
CDBS is a pool of information used by the FCC’s Media Bureau for public access and electronic filing. Broadcasters and others associated with the industry use it for electronic filing of a variety of license applications and forms. The commission now mandates electronic filing of numerous applications by broadcasters. CDBS also allows the public to search for applications and EEO information filed by broadcasters.
The new Consolidated Licensing System will unify CDBS and several other databases operated by all of the FCC’s bureaus and offices, according to the agency.
The existing Universal Licensing System, managed by the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Homeland Security Bureau, also is part of this database consolidation. The ULS is the database and application filing system for most wireless radio services, including broadcast auxiliary services.
Licensing data from the FCC’s database is shown for KSEG(FM), Sacramento, Calif. It’s unclear how or whether the appearance of such information may change, once the commission consolidates its various licensing databases. Image courtesy Hammett & Edison The new combined online system will be transparent, easy to use and consistent with the FCC’s data-driven and fact-based rulemaking strategies, according to Jim Bradshaw, FCC deputy audio division chief.
“The goal for CLS is to make it simpler for all licensees, including radio broadcasters, to use the license and application systems,” he said.
“It will also allow [the FCC] to communicate important information in a timely manner. We envision CLS to provide access to commonly held licenses, applications and authorizations through one log-in portal, allowing licensees to navigate through our systems more effectively and efficiently.”
New “smart screens” will show only areas of interest to particular filers.
“We also anticipate improved mapping capability and the eventual capability for batch filing for filers with large quantities of licenses,” Bradshaw said. “In addition, we are anticipating adding the functionality for users to simultaneously update their address or other administrative information for multiple licenses.”
Commission officials say that due to the complexity of the changeover, only parts of CLS will be phased in beginning late this year. The consolidated system will be implemented over a period of years, said Bradshaw, who added that the FCC expects to solicit comments soon from the public through a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
Public forums held by the FCC, along with the forthcoming rulemaking, will allow input from users on what changes would benefit them the most and result in an easier-to-use licensing interface.
Meanwhile, the commission’s Office of the Managing Director is seeking public input through Public Notice Docket 10-73.
The FCC did not disclose the cost of implementing the consolidation project.
Communications attorneys and broadcast engineering consultants who regularly use the CDBS system have called it “antiquated” and “cumbersome.” A few believe some online forms are much more difficult to complete than their hard-copy predecessors.
“CDBS data entry can be problematic at times,” said John Garziglia, a communications attorney with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice.
Garziglia, whose firm uses CDBS repeatedly each day in just about every aspect of radio station representation, proposes better access to all public filings associated with FCC facilities.
“Right now, petitions to deny, waiver requests, FCC letters, ownership documents, CP grants and such, are spread across a wide variety of links, if available at all,” said Garziglia.
Outdated FCC forms should be redesigned for easier uploading to a new online licensing system, Garziglia added. “The FCC should design its forms to allow for entry of most application data on a commercially available spreadsheet or data program. An FCC form should be able to be substantially prepared in a program such as Excel or Access and then uploaded to the FCC’s website.”
Meanwhile, the ULS has been viewed by some in the broadcast industry as a “ferociously user-unfriendly” system, said one communications attorney.
“My advice would be to base the new system more on CDBS and less on [the Universal Licensing System],” said John Pelkey, a communications attorney with Garvey Schubert Barer. “Right now, ULS is based on the belief that a single application form can be used for divergent communications services. That assumption is fundamentally flawed.”
His firm has devised software that continuously trolls CDBS “so that we become aware of any action on important applications as soon as possible. There is never a time our firm is not using CDBS.”
Pelkey’s firm uses CDBS to prepare applications, ownership reports and other filings.
“Just as importantly, we use [CDBS] for basic research. It is a great source of historical data on broadcast stations.”
However, concerns about converting data from the current online databases to a new consolidated system have been expressed by some industry experts.
Bob du Treil, president of consulting engineering firm du Treil Lundin & Rackley Inc., said, “When we last went through the transition from the flat file database to the new relational database, there were many issues with database structure and the data itself. Over time the current database has evolved into a more reliable source, but I do fear flashback to those kinds of issues.” A relational database accommodates different data types and allows for more efficient data retrieval and storage than a flat file system.
“Any change in format or data specifications can cause extreme difficulties with our software interfaces,” he said. Hammett & Edison’s Dane Ericksen cited issues with ULS and CDBS when too many people are attempting to file simultaneously.
“It can overload and crash the system, which sometimes occurs when the FCC opens a filing application window with one-day cut offs.
“Another problem is that CDBS won’t allow tenth-meter site elevations when the site elevation goes over 999 meters. This then causes a rounding problem,” Ericksen said.
The new CLS needs to be “intuitive, accurate, stable and reliable” and needs to run parallel with CDBS, at least for a while, Ericksen added.
“Jumping to a new CLS that then crashes or otherwise doesn��t work properly could be bad news.”