The FCC rule modernization train is moving right along with full steam ahead. On Jan. 9, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on several proposals regarding the elimination of filing paper contracts. This takes a stab at revising rules that are nearly 80 years-old based on feedback that the FCC received from commentators from its May 2017 request for proposals to further modernize its rules. Kudos for listening, FCC!
Here is what broadcasters are required to do under the antiquated contract rule:
- You sign a contract;
- You put a copy of it in your station’s public file (or add it to your “list” of contracts under Section 73.2526 and 73.3527); and
- You file the paper contract with the FCC where it is allegedly put in a file somewhere in its reference room.
Has anyone visited the reference room lately? It looks like an abandoned ghost town with dusty hay bales stacked around and tumbleweeds rolling through it. Nobody is there. This paper filing requirement is pointless. The contract filing requirement would have utility if the contracts were uploaded in Correspondence File in CDBS. Sadly, nope. I cannot recall ever seeing a single LMA, JSA or any other “required” contract in there.
As one of the original authors of the Petition for Rulemaking to update the FCC’s contest rule, I have always found the requirement to file “paper” copies of contracts with the FCC a waste of time in this day and age. Like the old contest rule (which required the announcement of lengthy disclosures on-air), the current contract rule does not make sense in the modern era because there are better ways to serve the public now than when these rules were enacted. In the late 1930s, physically going to the FCC to review one of these contracts was the only viable option. Now, there are many options. The best option is 24/7 on-demand access available online.
The timing of this proposal is right on the money too. Currently, all contracts listed in Section 73.3613 of the FCC’s rules are required to be inserted (or listed) in a station’s public file — making the contract rule redundant to the public file rule. In just a little over a month, on March 1, allbroadcast station public files must be available on the FCC’s online public file system. Commercial radio stations in the top 50 markets should theoretically have all of this information available online. These stations were required to use the online public file system since June 2016.
This is the real solution to provide accessibility to the public. Instead of schlepping down to the reference room, lighting a candle and hoping that a paper contract made it into file, the public can now access these documents anywhere with the simple click of a mouse by going on the station’s online public file.
As a note of caution to broadcasters, remember to upload your required contracts. The FCC is using the online public file as an enforcement tool. As of now, there is no specific timeframe as to when the contracts need to be uploaded in the public file, but the NPRM seeks comment on what the timeframe should be required in order to close this gap. So, stay tuned. Better yet, put your comments on the record. The FCC is listening!