Victory for Transparency at the Federal Communications Commission Stems from Work of Watchdogs

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Last week, as the Campaign Legal Center and others urged, the Federal Communications Commission passed by a 5-to-0 vote new rules to extend the online public filing requirements for the public and political files to cover cable operators, satellite television (DBS) providers, and broadcast and satellite radio licensees.

Among other things, the rule will make the files containing information about political advertisers easily available to the public through the FCC’s public database.

The action came after the Campaign Legal Center, along with the Sunlight Foundation and Common Cause, petitioned the FCC to make the move in July 2014.  The groups were represented by the Institute for Representation at Georgetown Law Center.  The requirements for media outlets covered by the Communications Act to keep public and political files have been part of the law for decades.

“We commend the Commission for moving forward on our petition,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center. “This new rule drags FCC regulations governing the public file into the 21st Century and ensures that all media outlets covered by the Communications Act will make the information required in the public file more readily available to the public. For too long the public files for these media outlets have been anything but public despite technology that makes the process cheap and easy through means already being utilized by the outlets.”

She continued:

“The logical next step is for the Commission to ensure that the public file information uploaded to the FCC database is in machine-readable format, instead of PDFs.”

The rules adopted by the FCC continues the exemption for cable systems with fewer than 1,000 subscribers from the online file requirements and delays for two years the requirements for cable systems with between 1,000 and 5,000 subscribers.  The new regulations require commercial stations in the top 50 Nielson Audio markets with five or more full-time employees to begin filing online while providing a two-year phase-in for smaller radio stations.

Television broadcasters were required to use the online file beginning in July 2014. A similar phase-in program was used for smaller television stations.

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