Last November, the FCC announced that it had adopted a new "enhanced" programming report for TV licensees, and also that it would require TV licensees to post pretty much all of the local public files on their respective websites.  From March 13 until May 12, we all have an opportunity to send comments on the resulting paperwork to the FCC, which will then pass the comments on to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to let them how we feel about these new burdens.

OMB gets involved because the new reporting and website posting requirements are what the Federal government calls "information collection" activities.  Under the Paperwork Reduction Act, before an agency like the FCC can impose new information collection activities, it has to get OMB to bless them.  So the FCC has now had a notice published in the Federal Register to solicit comments related to the Paperwork Reduction Act, which then will be added to its own presentation and forwarded to OMB for its consideration.

We strongly encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity.  It is at least possible that a compelling showing of the extreme burdens imposed by the new FCC requirements could force the government to re-think them.

Technically, comments should address the need for the information to be collected, the accuracy of the Commission’s estimate of the burden of the collection, ways to improve the information collection requirement, and ways to reduce the burden on respondents.  Any comments are due to be filed by May 12, 2008.

It seems to us that the Commission has grossly underestimated the burdens imposed by the new rules and overestimated the utility of the information to be collected and/or posted.  For example, the FCC’s estimate of the time which would be required to complete Form 355 is rather fuzzy and shows significant costs to each station, costs which will be repeated quarterly – a fact which the FCC does not readily admit.  According to the Commission, filling out the form may take anywhere from 2.5 to 52 hours, a rather broad range to say the least.  The Commission has not explained how this new requirement will generate any more interest from the public, or otherwise promote the Commission’s localism goals, any better than similar requirements in the past have done.  Taking the Commission’s own estimate, the imposition of a new filing that could require more than a work week’s time to complete should require some justification – and that’s EVERY QUARTER!

If there are multiple comments from affected parties (i.e., television licensees) pointing out these flaws, the FCC might be forced to come up with some justification for its rules and to explain how the new burdens comport with the Paperwork Reduction Act.  The entertainment value alone of watching the FCC make this effort could be substantial, and a serious inquiry could even force some re-thinking.

For those inclined to try to get the FCC to reconsider outside of the OMB process, the March 13 Federal Register publication also establishes the deadline for filing petitions for reconsideration, and that deadline is now April 14, 2008.