FCC Proposes Further Modifications To Broadcaster And Cable Public File Rules

On May 25, 2016, the FCC released a Notice Of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) seeking comment on two proposed modifications to the local public file requirements for commercial broadcast stations and cable operators. The proposed changes come on the heels of the FCC’s decision in January 2016 to implement the Online Public Inspection File system for radio broadcast stations and cable operators with more than 1,000 subscribers, as well as DBS and satellite radio licensees.

When the FCC adopted rules outlining the transition to the new online public file system, it chose not to modify two categories of materials currently maintained in public inspection files: (1) letters and emails from the public, in the case of commercial broadcasters, and (2) the designation and location of the system’s principal headend, in the case of cable operators.  In each case, the FCC was concerned about the public disclosure of this information, for both privacy and security reasons.

Because commercial broadcasters would be required to keep a local public inspection file at their main studios after the transition solely to make available the public letters and emails, the FCC proposed in the NPRM to eliminate this requirement. The FCC reasoned that the maintenance of the public correspondence file is not necessary to ensure that the station is responsive to its local community.

Instead, the FCC noted that public comments regarding a station’s performance have been historically tied to the licensee’s submission of its renewal application, for which separate public notice is required. The FCC also noted that eliminating this requirement would bring commercial broadcasters into regulatory parity with noncommercial broadcasters, cable operators and radio/television satellite licensees, which are not required to maintain a public correspondence file.

Additionally, the FCC proposed to eliminate the requirement that cable systems maintain a local public file containing the designation and location of its principal headend. The FCC tentatively concluded that the general public does not have a need for this information, but it also acknowledged that certain entities, such as television broadcasters seeking to enforce their carriage rights, do need this information.  The FCC thus sought comment on alternative means to make this information available, including the modification of existing forms, such as the Community Registration Form, the Status Change form, and/or the Annual Report. The FCC also sought comment on whether other entities such as local franchising authorities require such information and, if so, suggestions of alternative approaches to make this information available.  Finally, the FCC sought comment on whether this information should be kept confidential for security reasons.

Comments addressing both proposals will be due 30 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register.