Station managers will soon become very familiar with a new FCC acronym: OPIF.
We are learning more from the Federal Communications Commission about compliance with its new public file requirements. Recall that in January, the commission mandated that radio broadcasters must move from keeping public inspection files at the studio and instead post those to an online database, with a timetable to be announced later. Now the commission has set those dates and made the new Online Public Inspection File, or OPIF, available for preview in a demo version. (Click on image at right; you will need a facility ID and passcode to sign in and manage files; and any files you upload will be deleted before the system officially goes online.)
Commercial radio stations in the top 50 radio markets that have five or more full-time employees will be the first required to use online filing (along with satellite radio, certain cable systems and DBS providers). They must commence using the database on June 24, 2016, and will have six months to place their existing public file documents into the online file, i.e. by Dec. 24. Existing political file material is exempted.
The second wave of broadcasters has more time. This includes all NCE radio broadcast stations; commercial radio broadcast stations in the top 50 Nielsen Audio markets with fewer than five full-time employees; and all commercial radio broadcast stations in markets below the top 50 or outside all markets (as well as certain cable providers). Stations in this group have until March 1, 2018, to place their public file materials online, again exempting existing political files. And as of that date, they must begin placing all new public AND new political file material in the online file.
Note too that at least for now, commercial broadcast licensees must continue to keep letters and emails from the public in their local files. (The FCC separately is circulating a notice of proposed rulemaking to eliminate the requirement about letters and emails in the public file entirely.) The FCC also reminded commercial radio stations of their continuing obligation to place copies of current joint sales agreements into their local public inspection files.
Television broadcasters have been subject to online file requirements since 2012; but as of June 24 they too will use the new expanded OPIF rather than the existing online broadcast public inspection file, or BPIF. In moving from the older system, the FCC says it has made technical improvements to help with uploading of documents and management of files, including implementation of an API that can be used to connect the new system to third-party web hosting services. It also finished its transition to cloud-based computing for managing the database and made other technical tweaks.
Confused about all this? The commission has posted information online to explain it all. Also, to help broadcasters get up to speed on these changes and demo the system, the FCC will conduct a live webinar; the date has not yet been announced; we will report it when it is available. You can also ask for help at 877-480-3201 or online via https://esupport.fcc.gov/request.htm. And of course, when in doubt about any public file matter, check with your station legal counsel.