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Keeping current with the FCC’s public file requirements

Apart from updating The Public and Broadcasting in 2008, it had been some time since the FCC made formal changes to the commission’s public inspection file rules, apart from an occasional added requirement here or there stemming from an unrelated proceeding.

That changed this decade with the FCC’s initiative to move station public inspection files online.

In 2012, the FCC pushed for TV stations to post most public file information online as part of an effort to update broadcast disclosure rules.

This year, the FCC extended the online public file requirement to broadcast radio stations, starting with commercial radio stations in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets that have five or more full-time employees.

The first wave of radio stations began uploading materials in June and have until Dec. 24 to upload all public file documents (with a few exceptions) created prior to June 24.

All other commercial and non-commercial radio stations will be required to upload their public inspection file documents to the online public inspection file by March 1, 2018.

“Second wave” radio stations may voluntarily transition their public files online early if they wish.

Soon, the last vestiges of having any paper public file may be removed by the FCC.

As we reported in the Bulletin last week, TAB is urging the FCC to eliminate the requirement that commercial broadcasters retain correspondence from the public in their public inspection files, a move the FCC tentatively concluded it should initiate in an earlier rulemaking.

Commercial broadcasters are the only entities required to maintain letters from the public in their public inspection file.

By eliminating the letter requirement now, radio stations would have an incentive to make the move sooner, giving the public online access to that content much earlier.

Moreover, the advent of social media has generated a volume of commentary on social media sites about a station’s performance that greatly exceeds the number of letters and emails ever sent to a station and already is available online.

TAB was joined in its filing by broadcast associations representing 49 other states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. 

Broadcasters should take heed – the move to an online station public file brings with it the increased risk of fines.


The FCC no longer has to send an agent out of the office to physically inspect a station’s public file – it can all be done remotely.

TAB warns broadcasters to be vigilant about maintaining the station public file.

While it may be up to snuff one week, it may not be in compliance in a month’s time.

Because FCC reviews can be done remotely, stations are always at risk.

So what’s a station to do?

TAB’s federal legal counsel, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, has just updated its venerable public inspection file advisory for commercial and non-commercial broadcasters.

That document is available for download from the TAB website’s Members section.

Prepared by attorneys Scott R. Flick, Lauren Lynch Flick and Jessica Nyman, the advisory is designed to aid commercial and noncommercial radio and television stations comply with the FCC’s public inspection file rules, including the online public inspection file requirements.

Each section of the station is broken down as to content, organization and retention.

We encourage stations to download and review the Pillsbury advisory and to check what’s been filed (or hasn’t been filed) online or the contents of a physical public file onsite.

Set up a regular schedule of public file maintenance with personnel backups and take other proactive measures. 

TAB cannot emphasize enough the importance for stations to be proactive about the station public inspection file.

Not only is your station’s compliance, or lack thereof, in full view, the FCC also raised the caps for fines earlier this year.  

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

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