New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai chaired his first Commission meeting yesterday with a slimmed-down Commission consisting of two Republicans (Pai and Michael O’Rielly) and one Democrat (Mignon Clyburn). The FCC will likely be back to the full complement of five Commissioners after President Trump names a third Republican Commissioner, at which time he may reappoint former Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, while still maintaining a Republican majority.
At yesterday’s meeting, the three remaining Commissioners unanimously approved a rather noncontroversial proposal to eliminate two relatively minor public inspection file requirements, which we wrote about here. The first eliminated rule required commercial TV and radio broadcast stations to maintain copies of correspondence (both letters and emails) from the public in a locally maintained public file, while all other public file documents are (or soon will be) maintained in an online public file at the FCC website accessible here. With the elimination of the public correspondence retention requirement for broadcasters, the FCC is also eliminating the need for broadcasters to summarize correspondence relating to violent programming in their renewal applications.
The second action eliminated the need for cable operators to keep information about the location of the cable system’s “principal headend” in a locally maintained public inspection file. Although the Commissioners noted the continued need for cable operators to make this information available upon request to the FCC (for signal leakage and interference purposes), TV broadcasters (for must-carry purposes), and franchise authorities, they also noted that there is no need for the public to have this information, which was identified as a potential security concern. In eliminating this requirement, it will now be possible for cable operators to do away with any local public file, as all other required public file documents are posted online at the FCC. (The FCC noted that cable operators may post principal headend information online, if they choose to do so. They must otherwise respond to requests from TV stations and franchisors within 15 days via certified mail, email or telephonically.)
With the elimination of these two public inspection file requirements, it should now be unnecessary for most broadcasters and cable operators to maintain a local public inspection file. The Commission considers this a helpful security measure, as broadcasters and operators will no longer need to allow public access to a station’s or cable system’s facilities.
This action will not be effective until approved by the Office of Management and Budget, following which the FCC will issue a Public Notice announcing the effective date. Until then, the old rules are still in effect requiring local public file access to public correspondence (broadcasters) and principal headend location information (cable operators).