Fines of $9000 for Public File Violations Upheld, But FCC Asks if the Paperwork Burden of the Public File is Justified

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Last week, in a frenzy of cleaning up issues left from old license renewal applications, the FCC upheld several $9000 fines for public file violations - most in connection with the failure of licensees to have a complete set of Quarterly Programs Issues lists ("QPIs") in those files. The broadcasters who were fined came up with a variety of arguments as to why those fines should be reduced or eliminated - which were uniformly rejected by the Commission. What we find interesting is that, while these large fines were levied against a number of broadcasters, the FCC is at the same time asking whether retention of the public file can be justified under the provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act. So which is it - an important tool to keep the public informed about the ways that stations serve their public, or an unreasonable burden on those who are regulated by the FCC?

While this request for comments on the paperwork burden imposed by the public file may be nothing more than a routine review of Commission rules to justify their continuing existence under the provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act, it is interesting that this rule - long the source of wrath from broadcasters who complain that the file is never visited except by the occasional college broadcasting student who has to do so as a class project, or by the competitor in the market looking for something to complain about (and even those visits are extremely rare for most stations) - is now up for review and comment. Why was this rule selected for review? Will there be other rules about which the FCC asks for comment? Is there any justification for the burden imposed on broadcasters (which the FCC estimates at a cumulative 1,831,706 hours of work annually, but to which it curiously assigns no associated cost burden with the required tasks) when it is routine for the file to be never visited? You have your chance to voice your comments - with the filing deadline for such comments being June 17, 2011.

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Published In: Administrative Agency Updates, Communications & Media Updates

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