The Commission has released a new version of The Public and Broadcasting, revised as of July, 2008. All full-service radio and television licensees (commercial and noncommercial) and Class A television licensees should have a copy of this latest version in their local public inspection files. You can download a PDF copy from the Commission’s website, or we can send you a hard copy, if you would prefer. 

The fact that the Commission has revised its manual at this time comes as something of a surprise for a couple of reasons. First, the document had just been revised in April, 2008 – for the first time since 1999. Since nearly a decade had passed between revisions, a new update within three months of the April, 2008, revision was certainly not expected. 

Moreover, when the April, 2008, revision was issued, the Media Bureau released a public notice specifically alerting everyone to the availability of the new version. To the best of our knowledge, no such public notice heralded the release of the July, 2008, edition.

To be sure, the April, 2008, public notice included the following tip: 

The Media Bureau will periodically update “The Public and Broadcasting” to reflect pertinent developments in the law, providing the date of the update on the front cover of the publication. Licensees should check the Commission’s website for the current version (at when they undertake regular updates of their public files. 

So the Bureau may now be expecting each licensee with a public file, as a part of the routine maintenance of that file, to check the FCC’s website for updates. Of course, the Commission hasn’t incorporated any such requirement into its rules, but that doesn’t appear to faze the Bureau. 

Despite the fact that the size of the PDF file currently comprising the July, 2008, version is nearly 100 times bigger than the PDF of the April, 2008, edition (an incredibly whopping 14 MB compared to the far more reasonable 190 kB), it does not appear that there are any major substantive changes in the new version. In fact, the only truly substantive addition appears to be a reference to the new Form 388 which full-service TV licensees are required to file to report on their efforts to educate the public about the DTV transition. (The new version also updates a couple of addresses for FCC contact people and makes a couple of very slight language changes which do not affect the overall substance of the information.) 

We suppose that we might applaud the FCC for being diligent about updating its own materials. But we can’t shake the notion that, when the Commission tinkers (and tinkering probably overstates what the FCC had done in this revision) with a document which EVERY FULL SERVICE LICENSEE is required to have in its public file, the Commission might want to think twice. At a minimum, the Commission should alert broadcasters of the availability of the revised edition. That alert should delineate the particular revisions being made, and might also advise affected licensees whether any earlier version will do the trick or, alternatively, whether it is absolutely essential to download the revised version. (Absent any contrary indication, the safest course will always be to download the latest and greatest, even if the new version does not materially differ from the older version.) And the Commission might also want to give thought to precisely what changes will warrant a whole new edition. 

Unfortunately, this may just be harbinger of what life will be like as the Commission wades deeper into the “localism” thicket: substanceless messing around with “localism”-oriented documents which have very little actual significance at the local level, but messing around which imposes a significant burden throughout the broadcast industry. 

We can only hope that, at a minimum, somebody at the Commission will eventually figure out how to reduce the file size of The Public and Broadcasting PDF so that it doesn’t clog up too many Internet connections during the download.