The FCC has repeatedly held that stations may not require members of the public to make prior appointments to inspect the public inspection file, or otherwise delay or deny access to the public inspection file during normal business hours. In a 2001 decision, the FCC stated that "a delay of ten minutes to satisfy legitimate security concerns may be reasonable," but has never established a precise threshold as to how long the security process can take before it becomes too burdensome for the public file visitor. Historically, the FCC has imposed its full base forfeiture of $10,000 for such violations.
According to a recently released Notice of Apparent Liability ("NAL"), the FCC fined a California noncommercial broadcaster $10,000 for violating Section 73.3527(c) of the Commission’s Rules, which requires broadcasters to provide unfettered access to a station’s public inspection file during regular business hours.
The NAL indicated that on three separate occasions in August 2010, an Enforcement Bureau field agent from the Los Angeles office was denied access to the main studio, the station personnel, and the public inspection file. During the three separate visits to the station, the field agent chose not to disclose his connection to the FCC, and instead presented himself as a member of the general public. On each visit, the field agent was denied access to the station by security personnel because the field agent did not have a prior appointment. On his fourth attempt to access the station's public inspection file, the field agent informed the security personnel of his relationship to the FCC, provided formal identification, and requested access to the public inspection file, the main studio, and the station's staff. At that point, the field agent was allowed to enter the station. During the resulting inspection, the field agent determined that the station had a general policy of requiring members of the public to request an appointment to view the public inspection file in violation of the unfettered access provision of Section 73.3527(c) of the Commission's Rules. Upon finally being permitted to look at the file, the agent determined that the public inspection file was complete. However, because of the obstacles placed in the path of those seeking to view the file, the FCC presented the station with a $10,000 fine.