The FCC has asked for public comment on whether it should extend the online public inspection file obligation to radio, and also whether it should adopt an online public file obligation for cable television and satellite television operators. The latter proposal originates in a recent petition by the Sunlight Foundation and two other public interest groups seeking an online political file for cable and satellite television providers. Sunlight has been active in filing complaints with the FCC raising issues with the adequacy of television broadcaster’s online political files and their sponsorship disclosures (see our articles on the Sunlight Foundation’s recent filings here and here). The extension of the online file obligation to radio had been proposed when the obligation was adopted for TV broadcasters (see our article here about the obligations for the TV online public file), but the FCC did not adopt the obligation, leaving that adoption for another day. The FCC now asks for comments on whether that day has come, and radio broadcasters should be subject to the same obligations. Comments are due August 28, and Reply comments are due September 8.
This proceeding appears to be just a preliminary request for comments, rather than a formal rulemaking seeking to establish rules for an online file for MVPD. There are no specific rules proposed for what would be in an online public file for MVPDs, and the Public Notice indicates that the FCC staff has not yet determined if it has the resources to host an online public file for radio operators. It is also worth noting that the FCC, in adopting the requirement for an online public file for TV stations, said that it would conduct a review of the process for TV stations before it adopted the rule for radio – a process that was begun over a year ago (see our post here), but has never been completed. As we remarked when the Commission issued a reminder before the political file rules went into effect for small market TV stations, we were somewhat surprised that this effective date would occur before there was any resolution of that review. But the online political file rule went into effect for small market TV with no resolution of the review of the effectiveness of the online file (see our reminder here), and now it looks like the FCC will begin the process of extending the requirement to radio. Perhaps the proposal to extend the obligations to radio will prompt the review of the effectiveness of the online file before any extension is adopted. This obligation will not be imposed overnight, as a formal rulemaking process will probably take at least a year, and probably more, to adopt final rules. But the process of extending the public file rule to radio has begun, so broadcasters should be ready to file comments in this new and unexpected proceeding in just 3 weeks. And cable and satellite television companies will be right there filing comments with the radio broadcasters.