The six months that the FCC gave to television stations to upload the contents of their paper public files to their new online public file seemed like a long time back in August, when the deadline was announced and the online public file rule became effective. But that deadline is upon us, and the FCC yesterday issued a reminder that television broadcasters (full power and Class A stations) need to have all of their required documents uploaded to their online public file by Monday, February 4. The 6 month deadline actually falls on the weekend, so the FCC has given stations to the end of the day on Monday to come into compliance. The Commission has even offered to have people at the FCC over the coming weekend to answer questions about the uploading process for all those waiting until the last-minute to comply.
As made clear in the public notice, no broadcasters need to upload contents of their political files that existed prior to the August 2 effective date of the rules. TV Broadcasters who are affiliates of the Big 4 networks in the Top 50 markets should already be uploading new political file material onto their online files, while other TV broadcasters have until July 1, 2014 before they are subject to the requirement that they upload their new political materials to the online file. In neither case do stations have to upload political file materials that precede the date that the obligation applies to their station.
The FCC also reminded broadcasters not to upload letters from the public as, for privacy reasons, these are not to be saved online, but instead to be retained in a paper file maintained by the television station.
So what should be uploaded? Probably the most voluminous documents that will need to be uploaded are the Quarterly Issues Programs Lists for the entire license renewal term. Annual EEO Public Inspection File Reports also need to be uploaded to the file. And certain station contracts and agreements, like those dealing with future ownership rights in a station and time brokerage agreements for more than 15% of a station’s airtime, also need to be in the file.
One clarification that some had expected was not in Public Notice. Questions had been raised about stations that, because of pending indecency complaints and the uncertainty about how to deal with such complaints in light of last summer’s Supreme Court decision, never had their renewal applications granted in the last license renewal cycle. So, instead of the normal maximum of 8 years of documents for a station with a normal renewal term, some of these stations may have as many as 16 years of Quarterly Issues Programs Lists in their files, twice that of other stations. Some stations have requested that the Commission waive the requirement that these old reports be uploaded, and there had been some speculation in the trade press that the Commission might act on such requests. But no blanket waiver is contained in the public notice.
For a summary of the online public file requirements, you can go to our Q and A on the online public file requirements, here.
Update – 1/31/2012, 6:00 PM – The FCC this afternoon granted a waiver relieving certain TV stations from having to post Quarterly Issues Programs Lists from prior renewal terms to their online public file, even if their last license renewals have not been granted. For details about this waiver, see our article here.