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FCC to Act on Online Public Files for Radio

Commission will rule on the modernization of radio station’s public inspection file rules

Radio will feature at this month’s Federal Communications Commission Open Meeting, scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 28, at 10:30 a.m. Eastern.

The commission is expected to require broadcast radio stations and satellite radio to begin posting public files to an online database.

As Radio World readers are aware, the commission has been planning for several years to take this step.

“This modernization of the public inspection file is plain common sense,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in a blog post this month. Among the benefits cited: The public will gain greater transparency and easier access to information in the files. The chairman added that the proposal does not include new disclosure requirements for broadcasters.

As things stand now, broadcasters are required to make files available physically at their station. The files include community-relevant data including political advertising sold, station ownership information and equal employment information. Critics have said the on-site nature of the system makes accessing the information difficult and intimidating. Broadcasters too have not been crazy over the years about how the public file system works, for different reasons, and have been leery about aspects of moving the process online, including concerns over intrusion into business matters.

In 2012 the FCC adopted rules to move TV stations’ paper public files online; that transition was completed in July 2014. In December 2014, the commission proposed to extend this requirement to include broadcast radio, satellite radio and cable and satellite television.

The National Association of Broadcasters this month expressed concerns about which radio stations should be required to make the online transition. The NAB said radio stations with fewer than five employees should be exempt from the online public file requirement; some of these stations operate with only a single full-time employee, and are much less likely to air significant amounts of political advertising, the NAB stated in a letter to the commission on Jan. 21. “Thus, exempting these very small stations is unlikely to promote the commission’s goal of improving public access to information about such ads, which it has cited as the principal benefit of online access to media outlets’ public files,” the letter said.

Also at the Thursday meeting is a notice of proposed rulemaking to strengthen the Emergency Alert System by promoting participation on the state and local levels, supporting greater testing and awareness and making EAS more secure. Radio World will have more on these proposals separately.

And the commission will consider an ongoing tussle over a noncommercial FM license in Washington state. The FCC will address a Memorandum Opinion and Order on an application for review filed by Chehalis Valley Educational Foundation, which is challenging the grant of an application to KBOO Foundation for a new NCE FM station in Chehalis, Wash.

The meeting will be streamed live.