— Soon radio stations will be required to place public file documents online
and to use the FCC’s new Web interface to accomplish that.
TV stations now are required to do so. While a radio requirement hasn’t been
announced, commission officials have confirmed to Radio World it’s coming, and
staff is now planning a version of its new online public file database for
radio. The agency demonstrated beta versions of the TV interface in late July
and early August as it was fine-tuning the site.
commission proceeded with its requirement for TV stations despite a request for
a stay from NAB pending judicial review at a federal appeals court. The stay
was denied; the court was still considering the appeal.
rules went into effect Aug. 2; Fox, CBS, ABC and NBC television affiliates in
the top 50 Nielsen DMAs began uploading new material for their public file to
the FCC-maintained database on that date. They have another six months to post
stations not in the top markets, and those not affiliated with the big
networks, must comply within two years. (Political file contents of the public
file are treated differently; stations are required only to upload new
documents, not older material. Again, smaller stations have two years.)
beta version of the FCC’s online TV public inspection file system shows a list
of folders for WRC(TV) in Washington.
to now stations have kept their public file in paper form at their facilities
or at other locations such as libraries that are easy for the public to access
during business hours.
The new rules require moving them online.
Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake said the point is to make files easier for the
public and industry to access, moving from an “antiquated hard-copy filing
system to Internet-based filing systems.” Moving files out of station’s
basement filing cabinets “is a commonsense first step,” said Lake.
haven’t said exactly when they intend to require radio stations to move public
files online; they want to work out any bugs first with the TV version.
NAB and stations protested the rule, citing
the administrative burden. They also don’t like the idea of placing political
files — including information about pricing of political ad buys — online,
arguing that this places TV stations at a disadvantage against competitors like
cable and satellite, which are not required to do so.
Upload limits raised
Chief Data Officer Greg Elin listed improvements to the agency’s current online
database used for other filings.
station has a profile page. Elin says the new interface will fewer user clicks
than the current one. He demonstrated how a station staffer could drag and drop
multiple documents into the database at the same time.
said the commission recognized that the first stations would have a lot of
files to upload over the next six months and might be filing every day.
Managing numerous files might be unwieldy, so the FCC took a suggestion from
NAB to implement Dropbox. The free online file-hosting service allows users to create a folder on each of their
computers; Dropbox synchronizes those so they appear to be the same folder with
the same contents regardless of which computer the material is viewed on.
commission intends to support other file-sharing technologies as well.
the agency converts files submitted electronically to PDF format to block computer viruses. This practice will
However, if your station has only one version of a
paper document, and it’s really old or long, it’s okay to scan the document and
send the document as a PDF to the FCC, according to Elin.
The site will be able to handle several file
formats such as PDF, text, word or HTML.
a station has uploaded documents to the FCC’s system, the facility no longer
needs to keep a paper file on-site for the public to inspect.
letters and e-mails from the public are an exception. The commission does not
want stations to upload those for privacy reasons. Letters and e-mails from the
public should remain at the stations. Text directing the public where they can
find this material will be part of each station’s online public file, according
stations have had questions concerning what documents to upload for the
political file in order to show the final price for an advertising purchase. He
suggests stations upload an invoice or a contract that contains the final price
of the ad buy.
the system, some stations sent the commission documents for the political file;
Elin said in an August demo that he’s seen checks with bank numbers, social
security numbers, credit card numbers and other personal information. All of
that can be redacted from documents a station uploads to the FCC’s new system.
“I recommend against putting a scanned copy of
a check in the online public file,” he said.
big a file a station can upload at once is a question several broadcasters asked
as well. In the past, station personnel or their attorneys needed to break up
large files to send them electronically to the commission. Elin said the
commission is now looking at limiting file size uploads to around 50 Megabytes.
by Radio World about the risk of a system crash on the deadline when many
stations would be uploading files, he replied that files from all broadcasters would be put on
dedicated hardware, separate from the public access portal. There will be a 2,000-station cap on how many
TV stations can file simultaneously. “If we have a high spike with the public,”
the agency can use caching and redundancy in the cloud to handle the volume,
Michael Richards, a communications attorney who
attended the first demo, believes that for “mom and pop” radio stations, the
process will be a “challenge to implement so [that] an important
community-based source of local media is not further stressed by the already
tough operating conditions in the modern media environment.”
Fletcher Heald & Hildreth attorney Peter
Tannenwald opposes the new requirement generally but said the initial demo made
the process look “usable.” He thinks conversion could prove to be a “mess” for
radio, where stations have much smaller staffs.
him, the online concept also brings up other concerns. “Probably 90 percent of
public file inspections are by potential troublemakers.” Stations are entitled
to ask for a name and address of a person who comes to a station to look at the
file, in part for safety reasons, he said. “That has helped my clients in many
cases to spot potential trouble and try to deal with it before it gets out of
control.” It’s unclear whether there will be a similar mechanism for online
continued: “Some stations don’t care if they don’t know who looked at the file.
They would much rather put the file online and not admit strangers into their
Among other files, stations must place all their
licensing, ownership and EEO documents, and any related to an FCC complaint, in
their public file.
commission planned to post instructional videos to its website that would
detail exactly how to use the upload system. It included
a “Frequently Asked Questions” tab on the interface at stationaccess.fcc.gov and established a hotline for TV stations:
(877) 480-3201 or (717) 338-2888. It is staffed weekdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.