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Telecommunications Update – FCC Proposes Changes to its Public Inspection File Requirements

June 2, 2016

FCC Proposes Changes to its Public Inspection File Requirements

Last week, the Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) proposing to eliminate two of its public inspection file requirements.  Currently, commercial television and radio broadcast stations are required to retain and make available to the public copies of letters and emails from the public (this requirement does not apply to noncommercial broadcasters).  Additionally, cable system operators are required to maintain and allow public inspection of the location of a cable system’s principal headend.  These two rules would be eliminated under the Commission’s NPRM, thereby reducing some of the regulatory burdens on commercial broadcasters and cable operators.

The Commission’s proposal is a further extension of its 2012 adoption of online public inspection file rules for broadcast television licensees whereby television public files that were previously retained at a station’s local main studios were moved to an online, Commission-hosted database.  This did not include, however, letters and emails from the public.  These items were to continue to be maintained the station’s main studio.  In January, 2016, this online filing move was expanded to cable operators, DBS providers, broadcast radio licensees and satellite radio licensees with the exception of letters and emails from the public and principal headend location information.

In its NPRM, the Commission tentatively concluded that it should eliminate the requirement that commercial broadcasters retain letters and emails from the public in their public inspection files.  Eliminating this filing requirement would provide television and radio broadcasters with the same option as noncommercial broadcasters to cease maintaining a local public inspection file if they post all public file material to the online public file database and provide online access via their own website.  As a result of these proposals, broadcasters and cable operators can make their entire public inspection file available online and cease maintaining local public files.

Additionally, the NPRM proposed eliminating the requirement that cable operators retain information about the designation and location of their principal headends in their public inspection files.  While principal headend information must be made available to certain entities, including the FCC and local television stations, the general public does not need access to it.  The Commission is seeking comment on how this headend information should be collected and made available to the necessary entities.

Comments in response to this NPRM are due 30days after publication in the Federal Register, and Reply Comments are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.  Please alert one of Shulman Rogers’ dedicated telecommunications attorneys if you are interested in assistance with filing comments in this proceeding.


Alan S. Tilles

Georgina L.O. Feigen