FCC Proposes to Eliminate Public Inspection File Correspondence Rule

The Federal Communications Commission has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking(“NPRM”) proposing to eliminate the requirement that commercial radio and television stations keep copies of letters and emails from the public in a publicly accessible file at their main studios. Currently, the “correspondence file” rule requires commercial radio and television stations to keep “[a]ll written comments and suggestions received from the public regarding operation of the station” in a local, publicly accessible file. For television stations, all other public file materials are posted online, but correspondence from the public is still required to be kept at the local main studio. As we wrote about previously, the FCC has begun to transition radio stations to online public inspection files as well. Commercial radio stations with 5 or more full-time employees located in the Top 50 markets must begin to place their public inspection files online on June 24, 2016. Other radio stations, including noncommercial radio stations, will have until March 1, 2018 to comply with the online public file rules.

Citing privacy concerns, the FCC had previously decided that television stations should continue to keep letters and emails from the public at their main studios instead of posting them to their online public inspection file. Now, the FCC is proposing to eliminate the “correspondence file” rule entirely for both television and radio stations.

If the correspondence file rule is eliminated, broadcasters may decide not to maintain any public inspection file documents at their main studios. Stations could instead choose to post the entire contents of their public inspection file online in the FCC’s public file database, as long as they also provide online access via their own websites to the station’s back-up political files.

Some of the specific questions in the NPRM that the FCC is seeking comment on include:

  • Should the FCC eliminate the public inspection file “correspondence file” requirement as proposed?
  • What are the public interest benefits of eliminating the requirement, and are there public interest benefits to maintaining local correspondence file obligations?
  • How often do members of the public or others visit stations’ main studios to view correspondence files?
  • What impact does social media use by stations have on the ability of the public to communicate with stations?

Comments are due 30 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register; Reply Comments are due 60 days after Federal Register publication. We will let you know when publication occurs, along with the final comment due dates.

If you have any questions or are interested in filing comments in connection with the FCC’s NPRM, please contact any attorney in our office.

Categories: Media