• FCC Seeks Comments Concerning Online Posting of Political Files by TV Stations, Including Posting of Specific Spot Pricing Data
  • July 23, 2013
  • Law Firm: Lerman Senter PLLC - Washington Office
  • The Media Bureau is requesting comments from television licensees and the public regarding the requirement implemented last year for ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC affiliates in the top 50 Designated Market Areas to post their political files online.  Approximately 240 network affiliates were required to upload the political material required to be in their online public files hosted by the FCC beginning August 2, 2012.  The remaining commercial television stations were required to continue to place this material in their local “paper” public files maintained at their studios and will be required to post political material on the FCC site beginning July 1, 2014, under current rules.

    Many TV licensees objected to the initial proposal to include political material in the online public file.  The Television Station Group (TSG), a coalition of major TV licensees, filed a petition for reconsideration of the order adopting the online posting requirement.  The NAB filed a petition for review of the FCC’s order in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as well as a request for an emergency stay of the FCC’s order.  The request for stay was denied, and the NAB asked the court to hold the appeal in abeyance until the FCC ruled on the TSG filing and the FCC conducted a further rulemaking proceeding to determine whether changes in the rules are warranted, as promised in the Commission’s order adopting the rules.

    The Commission’s recent action solicits comments on both the TSG petition and the experience of the affected large market affiliates in maintaining the online political filings - more than 361,000 documents were filed by the stations in this group.  Specifically, the FCC wants to know whether stations encountered obstacles in uploading political material, and, if so, whether the process became easier over time as personnel became more familiar with the system and changes were implemented by the FCC.  The Commission also seeks information from the public, including political candidates and their representatives, regarding their ability to access information in a timely manner, and suggestions for changes in the online filing procedures.

    TSG argues in its petition that the online disclosure of specific, sensitive pricing information for political spots, including the amounts charged for issue-advertising, disrupts markets and is anti-competitive.  TSG suggests that the FCC continue to require that this information be made available for inspection in “hard copy” at a station’s studios, but that each station be allowed to elect to post online the aggregate amount of money spent by a sponsoring entity rather than specific rate information.  This proposal has been opposed by the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition, which contends that the posting of aggregate data:  (i) is not adequate to enable the public to determine whether stations are meeting their obligations under the law’s lowest-unit rate, equal opportunities, and sponsorship identification provisions; (ii) does not promote transparency and data-driven policy making; and (iii) makes review of political data more costly and time-consuming.  The Commission requests comments on these issues, and invites broadcasters and the public to suggest other steps that might improve consumer access to relevant data with respect to political advertising.

    Comments are currently scheduled to be submitted by August 26, 2013 and reply comments will be due by September 23, 2013.