FCC Denies Stay Of Online Political Rule Enforcement

Online reporting requirement kicks in Aug. 2
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As
expected, the FCC's media Bureau has denied the National Association of
Broadcasters request that it delay implementation of its political file online
reporting rules until a federal court hears NAB's challenge to those
rules.

The
FCC voted in April to require the Big Four network affiliates in the top 50
markets to send the FCC their files, including spot prices and who bought the
spots, to the FCC for posting online for all to see. The balance of TV stations
must follow suit two years from now, after the FCC has vetted the regime, and
sought comment, a year in.

NAB argued that the order was arbitrary and
capricious and that broadcasters would suffer irreparable harm because their
cable and satellite competition did not have a similar online reporting
requirement. The FCC was not persuaded, as it had not been by those broadcaster
arguments before it imposed the new rules.

The
FCC said broadcasters would not suffer irreparable harm if the stay were not
granted because they have to publicize all the same info in their local station
files anyway. In addition, says the FCC, broadcasters would still be
competitive for ad dollars given their audience reach.

"[B]roadcast
television has retained some clout as an effective way to reach large numbers --
not to the extent it has in the past but still more than most cable networks,"
said the bureau, citing the FCC's own Information Needs of Communities report,
the same report that suggested the online file posting. "Thus, television
broadcasters' uniquely large audience share will ensure that 'significant ad
spending on broadcast television will continue.'  Nothing in our rules
would change that fact. In addition, "stations are in control of setting lowest
unit rates, and have final determination of how low they are willing to set
their commercial rates."

On
July 17, the FCC will provide a public demonstration of its online political
file posting process, and says in the stay denial that is one way it is
facilitating the process for broadcasters. It also said it plans on holding
webinars on the process and will address any problems that are identified
during the testing. "Broadcasters should have sufficient information about
the database and time to come into compliance by the August 2, 2012 effective date.  Accordingly, we
conclude that NAB has failed to show irreparable harm,"
the FCC said.

As
to NAB's argument it is likely to prevail in court
on the merits of its challenge, the FCC says that isn't happening. IT also
dismisses NAB's argument that the "balance of
hardships and the public interest" favor a stay.

The
bureau points to public interest group arguments that they would be seriously
harmed by having to devote more resources to gathering political ad info from
individual stations, as would the public, who would have tough time accessing
the info. "We find that the public has a strong interest in implementation
of the online public file rules as currently scheduled because these new rules
will largely eliminate the substantial expense and inconvenience to the public
of traveling to the station and paying for paper copies  and greatly
enhance transparency in political spending in particular," said the bureau.

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