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Stay of FCC’s New Online Public Files Rules Up to Court

NAB argues placing station ad rates online ‘Likely to harm competition’

The NAB has again asked a federal appeals court to prevent the FCC’s new online public files rules from going into effect as slated for Aug. 2.

The decision is now up to the court.

The FCC, writes the NAB in reply comments on its petition for an emergency motion, “has failed to recognize that its online ‘one-stop shop for information about all’ television stations in a market, which includes detailed information about stations’ current advertising rates, is likely to harm competition.”

The broadcast trade group disputes the FCC’s assertion that antitrust concerns can be disregarded because price information is already part of a station’s public file. Moving a station’s public file, including its political file, online “will dramatically increase access to information in the files,” writes NAB, which has been arguing that this places TV stations at a disadvantage because their cable and satellite competitors are not compelled to disclose the price of a political ad buy.

The trade group noted that in his dissent from his colleagues on this point, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said that posting political ad rates online raises antitrust concerns “so serious that ‘if antitrust authorities learned that broadcasters were sharing price information market-by-market,’ broadcasters ‘would be sued for antitrust violations,’” wrote the trade association.

The commission is proceeding as if the new laws will go into effect and demoed how the new FCC interface would work for its agency-hosted web portal that TV broadcasters would upload public files to.

The agency expects TV affiliates of the four major networks in the top 50 markets to begin posting documents for their public files to the FCC website Aug. 2 with other TV stations to do so within two years. To give stations a break, the agency only required new documents for the political file to be posted, rather than the whole file.

The agency is planning to require radio to post its public inspection files online as well.