In a post on the FCC’s blog, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly proposed allowing broadcasters to meet their EEO wide dissemination obligations solely through Internet sources. As we recently wrote, broadcasters need to widely disseminate information about job openings at their stations, using sources that are designed to reach all of the major groups that may exist within a station’s recruitment area. These sources could include school groups, minority organizations, social or community organizations, or other population groups that may exist in a station’s community. The current EEO rules, adopted a dozen years ago, suggested that a significant newspaper of general circulation may be one way to reach most of the groups within a community. But, as the Internet was not seen as universally available at that point, the FCC ruled that online sources alone would not be sufficient to meet these wide dissemination requirements. The FCC has continued to enforce that decision, even penalizing stations that relied solely on online sources for wide dissemination purposes (see, for instance, our summary of one such decision fining a number of stations that relied primarily on online sources, here). Commissioner O’Rielly suggests that this does not make sense in today’s world, as the Internet is much more available than the newspaper and other more “traditional” recruitment sources.
The Commissioner cites many statistics about the current availability of the Internet to diverse populations, and points to the fact that virtually all public libraries now have public Internet access, and one of the principal reasons for such Internet access if often to provide employment opportunities. He points to all of the online job sites that now exist, and the relative paucity of job listings in today’s newspaper. Will his proposal go anywhere?
The FCC could act on this proposal today. It still has pending Petitions for Reconsideration of its adoption of the current EEO rules, including requests asking that the FCC do exactly what the Commissioner requests – allow online recruiting to meet the wide dissemination requirement. He cites in his blog article one such proposal for online recruiting made at the time by a group of state broadcast associations. While the FCC has not acted on the old petitions for reconsideration in the decade plus that they have been pending, perhaps now is the time, as employment recruitment practices have certainly changed dramatically since these rules were adopted. But the FCC may be reluctant to address those old petitions without a freshening of the record. Nevertheless, it certainly seems to be time for such a review. Will the rest of the FCC hear the call of the Commissioner and act on these old pleadings and bring recruiting into today’s world? Perhaps the recent proposal to reform the contest rules signals the FCC’s interest in updating outdated rules – but only time will tell for sure (even though so much time has already passed on these petitions…)