The FCC plans to vote on the last vestiges of the paper public file at its January open meeting on the 31st — a Report and Order resolving a May 2016 proposal to eliminate the requirement that commercial broadcast stations retain copies of letters and emails from the public concerning their station operation in their public inspection files. For cable operators, the R&O would eliminate the requirement that their public files include a list disclosing the location and designation of the system’s principal headend.
The two to-be-dispatched rules have been on the books for decades. Their contribution to the “public interest” has, as far as we can tell, been indiscernible.
The FCC first indicated last January it intended to eliminate the correspondence requirement, stating at the time “it’s hard to imagine anyone ever visiting a station solely for the thrill of reading its mail.” With the advent of the online public file, these are also the only documents broadcasters are still required to maintain in “hard copy,” significantly increasing the burden imposed by the requirement. And as to the cable headend disclosure rule, the Commission stated that “we do not believe that the general public has any need for or interest in this information.”
Broadcasters and cable operators will be glad to see these remnants of the former requirement to keep paper copies of public inspection files go into the dustbin; indeed, many broadcasters told the Commission that they consider it a safety risk to keep their offices and main studios open for members of the public on the chance that someone might want to see the file.