Media Bureau Seeks Comment On Online Political File
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th St., S.W.
News Media Information 202 / 418-0500
Washington, D.C. 20554
Released: June 25, 2013
MEDIA BUREAU SEEKS COMMENT ON ONLINE POLITICAL FILE AND PETITION FOR
RECONSIDERATION FILED BY THE TELEVISION STATION GROUP
MM Docket No. 00-168
Comments Due: August 26, 2013
Reply Comments Due: September 23, 2013
the Commission in the Second Report and Order in MM Docket Nos. 00-168 and 00-44, 1 requiring
broadcast television stations to post their political files online. We seek comment also on the Petition for
Reconsideration of the Second Report and Order filed by the Television Station Group. 2
2. Background. In the Second Report and Order, the Commission required stations to post their
public files online in a Commission-hosted database rather than maintaining the files locally at their main
studios. With respect to political file documents that must be maintained in the public file, the
Commission required stations that are affiliated with the top four national networks (ABC, NBC, CBS,
and Fox) and that are licensed to serve communities in the top 50 Designated Market Areas ("DMAs) to
post these documents online as part of the online public file, but exempted all other stations from posting
their political file documents to their online public file until July 1, 2014.3 The Commission stated that,
by July 1, 2013, the Media Bureau would issue a Public Notice seeking comment on the impact of this
online posting requirement for the political file so that the Commission can consider whether any changes
should be made to the requirement before it takes effect for other stations.4 The Media Bureau is issuing
this Public Notice consistent with the Commission's commitment in the Second Report and Order.
3. The online public file requirement adopted in the Second Report and Order replaced the
decades-old requirement that commercial and noncommercial television stations maintain public files at
1 Standardized and Enhanced Disclosure Requirements for Television Broadcast Licensee Public Interest
Obligations, Extension of the Filing Requirement for Children's Television Programming Report, Second Report
and Order, 27 FCC Rcd 4535 (2012) ("Second Report and Order"). The effective date of the new online public file
requirements was August 2, 2012.
2 See Petition for Reconsideration, Television Station Group, MM Docket Nos. 00-168 and 00-44 (June 11, 2012)
("Petition for Reconsideration").
3 Id. at 4536-7, 3.
their main studios with a requirement to post most of the documents in those files to a central, online
public file hosted by the Commission. The Commission's goals were to modernize the procedures
television broadcasters use to inform the public about how they are serving their communities, make
information concerning broadcast service more accessible to the public, and reduce broadcasters' cost of
compliance. The political file component of the public inspection file provides information about
requests by political candidates and other political advertisers to purchase television advertising time,
including the station's disposition of each request and the rate charged for the broadcast time.
4. Stations were required to upload new public file documents to the online database starting
August 2, 2012.5 Stations were given six months from this date to upload documents that were already in
their public inspection file.6 However, the Commission did not require stations to upload their existing
political files to the online database;7 rather, stations were required only to upload new political file
content on a going-forward basis.8 In addition, to better ensure that the Commission can accommodate
television broadcasters' online filings and to confine any unforeseen start-up difficulties to those stations
that are best able to address them, the Commission phased in the new political file posting requirement
by, as noted above, limiting it for the first two years, until July 1, 2014, to affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC,
and Fox networks in the top-50 markets.9
5. To date, over 361,000 documents have been uploaded into the online public file, including
over 66,000 documents in political files. During the month leading up to the November 6, 2012 general
election, stations uploaded nearly 27,000 documents to political files, peaking at 1582 documents
uploaded on November 5. In addition, the public file has attracted over 2.5 million pageviews on 500,000
unique visits to the site. The busiest day was September 11, 2012, on which the site attracted 5,296 visits.
6. Online Political File. We hereby request comment on how moving online the political file
has impacted the approximately 240 stations that are currently subject to this requirement. We seek
comment generally on the experience of this initial group of stations in posting their political files online
as well as the public's experience in accessing this information. Have stations encountered particular
obstacles in connection with posting documents to the online political file? Has online posting become
easier over time as station personnel have become more familiar with the process and as the Commission
has made improvements to its online database?10 Are there other steps the Commission could take to
5 The National Association of Broadcasters ("NAB") filed a petition for review of the Second Report and Order
with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Nat'l Assoc. of Broadcasters v. FCC, No. 12-
1225 (D.C. Cir. May 21, 2012). NAB sought an emergency stay of the Second Report and Order from the FCC and
the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; both requests were denied. Standardized and Enhanced Disclosure
Requirements for Television Broadcast Licensee Public Interest Obligations, 27 FCC Rcd 7683 (2012); Order, Nat'l
Assoc. of Broadcasters v. FCC, No. 12-1225 (D.C. Cir. July 27, 2012). On January 18, 2013, NAB filed an
unopposed motion to hold further proceedings in the case before the D.C. Circuit in abeyance pending (1) FCC
action on the petition for reconsideration filed by the Television Station Group and (2) the Commission's opening of
a notice and comment period concerning these rules, prior to July 1, 2013, to consider whether changes to the
requirements are warranted. On February 12, 2013, the court granted NAB's motion to hold proceedings in
abeyance. Order, Nat'l Assoc. of Broadcasters v. FCC, No. 12-1225 (D.C. Cir. February 12, 2013).
6 The six-month deadline expired February 4, 2013. See Public Notice, Television Broadcast Stations Reminded of
the Upcoming Public Inspection File Deadline, DA 13-120, rel. January 30, 2013.
7 These documents must continue to be maintained at the station, however, until the end of the two-year retention
8 Second Report and Order, 27 FCC Rcd at 4536, 2 and at 4551, 33.
9 Id. at 4536-7, 3.
10 In October 2012, the Commission announced the availability of a new, pre-generated "Terms and Disclosures"
folder in the online database where stations can upload explanations for any terms, abbreviations or other language
make its online database more user-friendly? We also ask members of the public, including political
candidates and their representatives, who review the online political file to comment on whether they
have found it easy to access information in the file, whether there are other improvements that we could
make to the database to facilitate access and review of this material, and whether the ability to view the
political file online has been beneficial.
7. In addition, we seek comment on the ability of stations that are currently exempt from the
political posting requirement to comply with the July 1, 2014 deadline. Are there changes we should
make to our rules or our database to facilitate compliance for stations that will be subject to the online
political file requirements for the first time next year? We note that more than 200 television stations that
are not currently subject to the online political file requirement have posted at least one document into the
online political file. We invite these stations to provide us with information about their experiences in
uploading political file documents to the Commission's database.
8. Petition for Reconsideration. Finally, we also seek comment on the Petition for
Reconsideration of the Second Report and Order filed on June 11, 2012 by the Television Station Group,
a group of large television station owners. The petition requests that the Commission reconsider the
online political file requirement in the Second Report and Order on the ground that it is not in the public
interest for stations to disclose online specific, spot-by-spot information about the rates charged for
advertisements placed by candidates or those placed by other parties that concern candidates.11 Although
the Commission's rules formerly required that this information be made publicly available in hard-copy in
the station's local political files, the petition argues that disclosure online of this sensitive pricing
information is anti-competitive, disrupts markets, and is not contemplated by current campaign finance
disclosure statutes.12 As an alternative, the petition proposes, among other things, that the Commission
require television stations to continue to make this specific rate information available in hard-copy in their
local political files and, in addition, that the Commission permit stations, on an opt-in basis, to post to the
Commission's database the aggregate amount of money spent by a sponsor of political advertisements on
the station in lieu of posting specific rate information online.13
9. The Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition ("PIPAC") opposes the petition on the ground
that allowing stations to post only aggregate data regarding political ads would be contrary to the
Commission's efforts to modernize its reporting systems and to promote transparency and data-driven
policymaking.14 PIPAC also argues that the Television Station Group proposal would make it more
difficult for the public to obtain specific information in the political file as paper files are costly and time
consuming to view.15 Finally, PIPAC also argues that aggregated information is insufficient to enable the
public to ascertain whether stations are meeting their statutory obligations with respect to lowest unit rate,
equal opportunities, and public disclosure of the sources of political ads.16
(Continued from previous page)
necessary for a full understanding of any documents posted to the online political file. The Commission also
announced it was continuing work on other improvements to the online public file including a public search feature,
RSS feeds for easy identification of new documents filed, and a feature permitting broadcaster access to the
interface through Dropbox. See Public Notice, New Features in Online Public Inspection File System Announced,
DA 12-1578, rel. October 3, 2012.
11 See Petition for Reconsideration at 1-2, 5.
12 Id. at 2.
13 Id. at 5.
14 See Ex Parte Communication, MM Docket No. 00-168, (February 11, 2013), at 1-2.
15 Id. at 2.
10. We seek comment on the issues raised by the petition and opposition. Would the voluntary
nature of the proposal affect the usefulness of the data collected? In addition, we invite comment on
whether there are other mechanisms that the Commission should consider to improve consumer access to
relevant data regarding political ads.
11. Permit-but-Disclose. This proceeding, including both the online political file inquiry and the
Petition for Reconsideration, will be treated as a "permit-but-disclose" proceeding in accordance with the
Commission's ex parte rules.17 Persons making ex parte presentations must file a copy of any written
presentation or memorandum summarizing any oral presentation within two business days after the
presentation (unless a different unless a different deadline applicable to the Sunshine period applies).
Persons making oral ex parte presentations are reminded that memoranda summarizing the presentation
must (1) list all persons attending or otherwise participating in the meeting at which the ex parte
presentation was made, and (2) summarize all data presented and arguments made during the
presentation. If the presentation consisted in whole or in part of the presentation of data or arguments
already reflected in the presenter's written comments, memoranda or other filings in the proceeding, the
presenter may provide citations to such data or arguments in his or her prior comments, memoranda, or
other filings (specifying the relevant page and/or paragraph numbers where such data or arguments can be
found) in lieu of summarizing them in the memorandum. Documents shown or given to Commission staff
during ex parte meetings are deemed to be written ex parte presentations and must be filed consistent
with rule 1.1206(b). In proceedings governed by rule 1.49(f) or for which the Commission has made
available a method of electronic filing, written ex parte presentations and memoranda summarizing oral
ex parte presentations, and all attachments thereto, must be filed through the electronic comment filing
system available for that proceeding, and must be filed in their native format (e.g., .doc, .xml, .ppt,
searchable, .pdf). Participants in this proceeding should familiarize themselves with the Commission's ex
12. Comments and Replies. Interested parties may file comments and reply comments on or
before the dates indicated on the first page of this document. Comments and Reply Comments may be
filed using the Commission's Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS).18
Electronic Filers: Comments may be filed electronically using the Internet by accessing the
Paper Filers: Parties who choose to file by paper must file an original and one copy of each
Filings can be sent by hand or messenger delivery, by commercial overnight courier, or by first-
class or overnight U.S. Postal Service mail. All filings must be addressed to the Commission's
Secretary, Office of the Secretary, Federal Communications Commission.
All hand-delivered or messenger-delivered paper filings for the Commission's Secretary
must be delivered to FCC Headquarters at 445 12th St., SW, Room TW-A325,
Washington, DC 20554. The filing hours are 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. All hand deliveries
must be held together with rubber bands or fasteners. Any envelopes and boxes must be
disposed of before entering the building.
Commercial overnight mail (other than U.S. Postal Service Express Mail and Priority
Mail) must be sent to 9300 East Hampton Drive, Capitol Heights, MD 20743.
17 See 47 C.F.R. 1.1200 et seq.
18 See Electronic Filing of Documents in Rulemaking Proceedings, 63 FR 24121 (1998).
U.S. Postal Service first-class, Express, and Priority mail must be addressed to 445 12th
Street, SW, Washington DC 20554.
13. Availability of Documents. Comments, reply comments, and ex parte submissions will be
available for public inspection during regular business hours in the FCC Reference Center, Federal
Communications Commission, 445 12th Street, SW, CY-A257, Washington, DC 20554. These
documents will also be available via ECFS. Documents will be available electronically in ASCII,
Microsoft Word, and/or Adobe Acrobat.
14. People with Disabilities. To request materials in accessible formats for people with
disabilities (Braille, large print, electronic files, audio format), send an e-mail to email@example.com or call
the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at 202-418-0530 (voice), 202-418-0432 (TTY).
15. Additional Information. For additional information on this proceeding, contact Kim
Matthews, Kim.Matthews@fcc.gov, of the Media Bureau, Policy Division, (202) 418-2154. Press
contact: Janice Wise (202- 418-8165; Janice.Wise@fcc.gov).
- FCC -
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