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Online Public Files Rankle Smaller Groups, Standalones

They ask the FCC to consider more exemptions

Earlier this week, we focused on what NAB had to tell the FCC about the agency’s proposal to extend the online public file requirements to broadcast and satellite radio, in addition to satellite TV and cable systems. Broadcast television stations have been required to upload their public file material to an agency-hosted online database since 2012.

Several radio owners and small station groups filed comments on the issue as well.

The 50 state broadcast associations pointed out that radio station staffs tend to be smaller than that of TV stations, and companies usually operate multiple radio facilities in a market. “As a result, moving radio station public files online will vastly increase the stresses on the commission’s filing systems while requiring smaller station staffs to upload and maintain multiple public files online.”

They support the commission’s proposal to begin extending the requirement to the top 50 markets and exempting noncoms and smaller stations, as does NAB. However, the state broadcast associations believe the fewer-than-five-employees exemption threshold is too low. They suggest the threshold should be 10 or fewer employees.

To ease the burden on the FCC’s IT infrastructure, the broadcast associations propose spreading out the filing window over 30 days so everyone isn’t filing on the same day. Currently the window is 10 days.

A group of local and regional radio broadcasters say small commercial and noncommercial independently-owned broadcasters operate under significant economic pressure and mandating that they place their public files online adds to that, “and on station employees who are often already pushed to their limits.”

The costs associated with online filing are higher for these stations as well, they contend. Small and noncoms should be exempt indefinitely and able to post their files online on a voluntary basis, according to this group.

The Radio Training Network, made up of several noncoms in the Southeast, told the commission the proceeding should focus on cable and satellite TV systems and not radio, noting that “additional regulatory burdens on already stressed noncommercial radio operators” are not in the public interest.

The Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, and the Sunlight Foundation had originally sought the rule to make finding political ad buying information more transparent. They also suggested extending the online public file requirements beyond TV. The FCC had already intended to extend the regulations. to radio, we reported.

All three public interest groups applauded the agency for its “prompt action” on the issue, and urged the commission to complete the proceeding so advertising buying information is online before the 2016 election.

They oppose all exemptions in general, but would “not necessarily” oppose a phase-in category if that category is based on total political ad revenue rather than station size. In any case, the exemption should end by July 2016, the three groups tell the commission.

Comments to the FCC (MB Docket No. 14–127) were due Monday and replies are due on April 14.