Stay of FCC’s New Online Public Files Rule Up to Court

The NAB disputes the FCC’s assertion that antitrust concerns can be disregarded
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The National Association of Broadcasters has again petitioned a federal appeals court to prevent the Federal Communication Commission’s new online public files rules from going into effect Aug. 2. The decision is now up to the court.

Responding to the NAB’s petition for an emergency motion, the FCC says, the NAB “has failed to recognize that its online ‘one-stop shop for information about all’ television stations in a market, which includes detailed information about stations’ current advertising rates, is likely to harm competition.”

The broadcast trade group disputes the FCC’s assertion that antitrust concerns can be disregarded because price information is already part of a station’s public file. Moving a station’s public file, including its political file, online “will dramatically increase access to information in the files,” says the NAB, which has been arguing that this places television stations at a disadvantage because their cable and satellite competitors are not compelled to disclose the price of a political ad buy.

The NAB cites FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell’s dissent from his colleagues on the requirement of posting political ad rates online. Posting such ad rates raises antitrust concerns “so serious that ‘if antitrust authorities learned that broadcasters were sharing price information market-by-market,’ broadcasters ‘would be sued for antitrust violations,’” the trade association says.

The commission is proceeding as if the new laws will go into effect and demoed how the new FCC interface would work for its agency-hosted web portal that TV broadcasters would upload public files to.

The rule requires TV affiliates of the four major networks, as well as public broadcasting, in the top 50 markets to post documents for their public files to the FCC website Aug. 2 with other TV stations to do so within two years. To give stations a break, the agency only required new documents for the political file to be posted, rather than the whole file.

The FCC is planning to require radio broadcasters to post public inspection files online as well.