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Goodbye Physical Public File – FCC Poised to Eliminate Last Vestiges at Jan. 31 Meeting

The FCC is slated to vote Jan. 31 to eliminate the requirement that stations keep “letters and emails from the public” in the station Public File. 

It’s the last vestige of a physical Public File at broadcast stations since all other documents in the file were previously mandated by the FCC to be posted online.

TV stations moved their Public File online a few years ago and radio stations began their online transition last summer.

The first wave of commercial radio stations (top 50 Nielsen markets, five or more FTE’s) were required to complete the move by Dec. 24, 2016.

All other radio stations will have until March 1, 2018, to upload newly created public inspection and political file documents and upload all existing public inspection file documents (with the exception of the political file).

The FCC’s anticipated action this month comes after TAB and all other state broadcast associations urged the FCC to eliminate the requirement in an earlier rulemaking proceeding that resulted in expanding the online public file requirement from TV to radio. 

“Many stations had to maintain and provide public access to a local public file solely to provide this one category of document,” said Scott Flick, an attorney with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, TAB’s FCC counsel.

The Pillsbury law firm filed the state broadcast associations’ brief urging the change.

If approved, the measure will greatly enhance the security of stations which currently are obligated by the FCC to admit anyone who knocks on the door and asks to review the station’s public file.  

It also would free stations from maintaining staff at all times during business hours ready to handle public file requests.

In addition, dropping the requirement would eliminate identity theft concerns for those writing and emailing a station and avoid imposing further costs on stations by requiring them to redact names and addresses from the documents.

FCC watchers “are still waiting to hear who will be chairing that post-inaugural meeting” Flick said, but for broadcasters, “it’s a nice way to start the year. “

For more background on the FCC’s end-of-month proceeding and information on the likely benefits for stations, read the Pillsbury law firm’s earlier post on the subject.

Questions? Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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