Think of it as EEO's answer to TurboTax or, says
attorney Gregg Skall, as the difference between a bunch of numbers and Lotus
1-2-3. Skall, with communications firm Womble Carlyle in Washington, represents
a group of four state broadcaster associations—Missouri, California, New Jersey
and Minnesota—that have pooled about $100,000 to create Web portal
The associations say the site makes compliance with the FCC's new EEO rules easier for stations big and small, with this caveat: 'This is an aid,' says Skall, 'not a panacea, nor is it intended as a way for broadcasters to assert compliance.' That disclaimer notwithstanding, the portal appears to approach one-stop EEO shopping.
Among its features: It automatically sends job-opening information to relevant agencies, customizes that list for different jobs, tracks on-air and print outreach efforts, tracks the interview and hiring process, generates all required forms 'ready to copy onto FCC online forms,' creates public-file reports, and sets up the FCC-required Web page.
The FCC adopted new EEO rules in November 2002 after its old ones had been struck down by an appeals court in 2001. The new rules kicked in last March.
The portal is the brainchild of Skall and Missouri Broadcasters Association President Don Hicks. Although saying the FCC 'got it right this time,' with its revised rules, Skall also says it was 'still pretty tough for smaller broadcasters to devote themselves to this when they are doing a morning show, selling spots in the afternoon and trying to do the books at night.'
The group has had equal if not greater initial interest from large broadcasters, Hicks says, pointing out that those broadcasters often have higher churn. He also cites corporate cutbacks that have put more work on station operators. Plus, he adds, 'we are dealing with things that put a station's license at risk,' a concern of operators of all sizes. Clear Channel, he notes, was the first Minnesota broadcaster to express interest in the portal.
The associations are making the site available to all their members at no cost beyond a optional $120 annual fee for a built-in faxing service and are recruiting other associations to kick in capital—a onetime $6,000 fee and a $1,500 annual hosting fee—to join them.
Illinois is close to signing, and Texas and Nevada are kicking the tires. Hicks expects more sign-ups in January as new budgets kick in.
If enough associations pitch in, once the initial $100,000 is covered, the rest of the buy-in will go into an escrow account to cover enhancements and expenses of the nonprofit operation. The portal was created by McLeansville, N.C.-based Litera.
Skall, Hicks and Litera Chairman Deepak Massand were at the FCC last week providing a show-and-tell of the new online service to members of the media bureau with EEO oversight, as well as to the commissioners' media aides. Skall says they weren't looking for an official FCC imprimatur. The bureau has made clear that each individual broadcaster is responsible for its own EEO obligations, which cannot be assigned to someone else. Hicks says the portal takes that into account by providing broad outreach that stations tailor to their individual needs.
One thing the portal doesn't do is send stations an e-mail warning if they are short any information come reporting times, but Skall says that is one of the enhancements being considered for the next iteration.
In the FCC demo, the group broached the subject of linking the portal with the FCC's electronic filing system, so that stations won't have to recopy the information on virtually identical forms. Back when the FCC adopted online filing, however, Skall says, a Federal Communications Bar Association committee talked about the possibilities of linking up other systems. FCC IT staffers didn't warm to the idea, citing security concerns. Those concerns remain, he says, but he thinks the FCC may be amenable to further talks along those lines.
With this year's anti-media backlash driven in part by online activists, hackers are an obvious concern. Massand says the site is protected by a tough firewall and is backed up daily.