At its meeting today, the FCC voted to require that television stations maintain most of their public inspection files online, in a database to be created by the FCC (see the FCC’s Public Notice here). While the details about this obligation have not yet been released, from the comments at the FCC meeting, much is already evident. All TV stations will have to post their files to an online server to be maintained by the FCC. Proposals for new obligations to post information about sponsorship identification and shared services agreements have been dropped, at least for now. Most documents not already online at the FCC will need to be uploaded within 6 months of the rule becoming effective. And, in the most controversial action, broadcaster’s political files will need to be posted to the new online database, though in a process that is to be phased in over time.
The political file obligation will apply at first only to affiliates of the Top 4 TV networks in the Top 50 markets. And only new information for the political file will need to be posted. Information in the file before the effective date of the order apparently will not need to be posted online, at least not initially. The requirement for posting the political file online will be reviewed in a proceeding to begin one year after the effective date of the new rules. As stations outside the Top 50 markets, and other stations in those large markets, will not need to comply with the political file obligations until July 2014, the FCC will be able to reexamine the impact of the disclosure obligations before the compliance obligation for the political file expands to all stations.