Multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) that include cable and satellite TV system operators could be subjected to FCC rules that require television broadcasters to make political and other files available to the public online, as proposed by a draft rulemaking document issued by the FCC last week.
The draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which began circulating among the FCC’s commissioners on October 30, would also apply to licensees of broadcast radio stations as well as to satellite digital audio radio service licensee Sirius XM Radio. While MVPDs are required to maintain file records of political ad purchases for public inspection at local offices, TV broadcasters are the only entities required by the FCC at this time to post such files online to a publicly- accessible FCC database. Acting on a joint petition filed by the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation, the FCC opened a docket in August to seek input on whether that requirement should be extended to MVPDs. In comments responding to that petition, the National Association of Broadcasters voiced support for “regulatory parity between video providers’ online public and political file requirements.” The National Cable & Telecommunications Association emphasized, meanwhile, that some of its members already post political and other public files online (though not to the FCC’s website) and thus asked the FCC to take that information into consideration.
According to an unnamed FCC official, the draft NPRM, if adopted in its current state, would request comment on the FCC’s tentative conclusion that online public file requirements be extended to MVPDs and to satellite radio and broadcast radio licensees. The item proposes a yet-to-be specified timetable for phasing in online file requirements that would begin with large-size cable and radio station operators. The draft document also asks whether the smallest entities should be excluded from the online requirement. Satellite TV and satellite radio entities would be required to comply with the rule immediately. MVPDs and other newly-affected entities would not be required to upload political file records that predate the adoption of the online rule. The FCC also said it has no plan to extend public file requirements to “over-the-top” online video distributors if the agency later reclassifies such providers as MVPDs. Admitting, “we’re not surprised to see this coming,” a spokesman for the American Cable Association confirmed, “we plan to participate fully in the proceeding.”