An Online Public Inspection File Order Now?

Posted on March 30th, 2020 by

Yes, that headline is accurate.  The FCC released an Order in its broadcast public inspection file docket on March 17, 2020.  It makes non-substantive, editorial revisions to the broadcast station public file rules to eliminate language that is unnecessary or no longer has any applicability.

Things like the word “local” as a modifier of the words “public inspection file” was replaced with the word “online.”  Language in the rule temporarily exempting radio stations from the online public file was deleted because radio licensees were no longer exempt from the online public file rule requirement as of March 1, 2018.  You get the idea.  But if were so routine, why are you reading about it here?

Good question.  We’re writing about it because there is something in a footnote that caught our eye.  After reviewing that the rule exempted stations from uploading existing political file material through the March 1, 2018 deadline for all stations to transition to the online public file, allowing a hard-copy to be maintained instead, the Order then noted that “the transition to the online public file will be complete” as of March 1, 2020 — two years after those hard copy political file materials could be removed from the file.  Footnote 10 followed that sentence, and rather bluntly declared:

Upon completion of the transition to the online public file, we expect that all entities subject to the online public inspection file requirements will be fully compliant.  Broadcast stations that are not in full compliance will be required to self-disclose any non-compliance in their renewal application during the current renewal cycle, and we anticipate that the Media Bureau will initiate enforcement action when necessary as part of the renewal review.

Now you see why that footnote caught our eye.  Perhaps what earlier appeared to be leniency for radio renewals thus far that had public file compliance issues was more of a function of the rule’s effectiveness date rather than the scope of the Media Bureau’s mercy.  As always, compliance is key to avoiding fines during license renewal.