Transition to New Online Public File Database Announced

In an earlier post, we discussed the adoption of rules requiring all radio stations, cable systems, and satellite radio and television licensees to transition their public inspection file onto an online database to be maintained by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

On May 12, 2016, the FCC announced the timeline for the migration for the affected parties.  In particular, the following parties will need to commence using the new database on June 24, 2016:

  • commercial radio stations in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio radio markets with five or more full-time employees;
  • cable systems with 1,000 or more subscribers;
  • Direct-Broadcast Satellite licensees; and
  • Satellite Radio licensees.

In addition to uploading all newly-created materials are required to be placed in a public inspection file for their particular service, these first-movers will also have to ensure that all materials placed in their existing public inspection file before June 24, 2016, is uploaded onto the new online system by December 24, 2016.

All other FCC licensees and cable systems – all noncommercial radio stations, commercial radio stations outside the Top 50 Nielsen Audio radio markets, and commercial radio stations in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio radio markets with less than five full-time employees – will have until March 1, 2018, to come into compliance with the new rules.  Parties with a March 1, 2018 deadline will be able to transition to the online public inspection file before the deadline, but they must provide notice to the FCC when their transition is complete, and they will no longer be able to rely on the paper-version of their file for compliance purposes.

Two other takeaways –

First, because the transition date is set in June, the first-movers will be required to upload newly-created political file materials during the upcoming election period.  The one exception is for cable systems with a subscriber count between 1,000 and 4,999.  These systems will not have to come into compliance with the online political file requirements until May 1, 2018.

Second, to incorporate the radio, cable, DBS and satellite services, the FCC created a new filing system – Online Public Inspection File (OPIF).  This new database will also be used for television licensees, which have been maintaining their public inspection file online since 2012.  All materials posted in the current online system for television licensees – Broadcast Public Inspection File (BPIF) –  are to be automatically transitioned to OPIF, but television licensees should make note to start using the new database as of June 24, 2016, and double-check that all of their materials have successfully made the transition.  Files stored in BPIF will no longer be available after June 24, 2016, so television licensees might consider confirming that they have backup copies of their previously-posted documents in the event that some documents are not successfully migrated to OPIF.

The FCC stated that it would conduct a tutorial before June 24, 2016, and encouraged parties to log into the new system to be acquainted with it prior to the commencement date.