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TAB opposes new public file rules

TAB and many other state broadcast groups continued opposition to two new FCC regulations marked for television and eventually for radio.

The two proposed rules include:

1. a new rule requiring television stations to compile minute-by-minute broadcast data, fill out FCC Form 355, file the report with the FCC and place the completed form in the station's public inspection file and on its website, and

2. the new rule requiring television stations to post virtually the entire contents of their paper-based public inspection files on their websites.

The state associations, along with the NAB, urged the commission to refrain from seeking OMB's approval of those two new, but not yet effective, regulations for television stations until after the FCC has ruled on the several petitions for reconsideration pending before it and has provided interested parties with a reasonable opportunity to provide Paperwork Reduction Act (the "PRA")-related comments on any new rules as reconsidered.

The filing stressed that the reconsideration petitions raise many issues that are relevant under the PRA and that depending upon the commission's action on reconsideration, review under the PRA will either be rendered moot in whole or in part, or will require a materially different analysis or justification. 

For example, it was pointed that notwithstanding the requirements of the PRA the FCC failed to consider allowing television stations to use the commission's own website as a universal online public file for stations, an alternative that would eliminate substantially the burdens and risks associated with requiring stations to design, implement and maintain on their own websites their public inspection files which include documents that pose serious privacy and COPPA concerns.

In short, the PRA surely would favor using a single, universal, one-stop-shop government (FCC) website for such purpose, rather than require thousands of station websites to be modified and maintained at enormous start-up and going forward cost for the same purpose.

The state associations also reminded the commission that each of these new rules is predicated on the commission's speculative "hope" that Form 355 reports and online public files will increase public involvement in the FCC's license process notwithstanding the fact that the public has historically shown little interest in any of the information in station public files. 

The filing also pointed out that the commission's own calculations of the time and cost of compliance, which appeared to cover both rules, were premised on an hourly wage which was in fact less than the Federal minimum wage, and that were far too low in any event.

The comments referenced the NAB's excellent study that concluded it would take the television industry over 4 million hours annually to comply with just the Form 355 rule which represents a cost burden to the industry in the tens of millions of dollars.

If the commission nevertheless decides to certify its two new rules to OMB for approval, the broadcast industry will have an opportunity to oppose such approval before OMB, and later in court if necessary.

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