TV Stations Want Political Ad Pricing Offline

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The Federal Communications Commission seeks comment on its requirement for television stations to post political files online rather than maintaining them at their main studios.
     Since last August, the FCC has required stations affiliated with the top four national networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) and that are licensed to serve communities in the top 50 Designated Market Areas to post pricing information on political advertisements on an FCC-hosted database.
     The Television Station Group, a group of large television station owners, has proposed the stations be allowed to post aggregate amounts, or be relieved of the requirement, saying it is not in the public interest for them to disclose online spot-by-spot pricing, and that it is "anti-competitive."
     The FCC requests comments on the impact of the current rules before they go into effect for remaining stations July 2014. It also seeks comments on The Television Station Group's petition to reconsider the requirement.
     The political files show requests to buy time for political ads, and what becomes of the requests.
     Starting Aug. 2, 2012, the bigger stations were required to upload new public file documents and political file information to the online database. Stations were given six months more to upload documents already in their public inspection file, but were not required to upload existing political files to the online database.
     The Television Station Group requested that the FCC reconsider the online political file requirement "on the ground that it is not in the public interest for stations to disclose online specific, spot-by-spot information about the rates charged for advertisements placed by candidates or those placed by other parties that concern candidates," according to the request for comments.
     The petition for reconsideration further argues that "disclosure online of this sensitive pricing information is anti-competitive, disrupts markets, and is not contemplated by current campaign finance disclosure statutes. As an alternative, the petition proposes, among other things, that the [FCC] require television stations to continue to make this specific rate information available in hard-copy in their local political files and, in addition, that the [FCC] permit stations, on an opt-in basis, to post to the FCC's database the aggregate amount of money spent by a sponsor of political advertisements on the station in lieu of posting specific rate information online."
     The Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition ("PIPAC") opposes the petition for reconsideration and argues that the Television Station Group proposal would make it more difficult for the public to obtain specific information in the political file, as paper files are costly and time consuming to view. PIPAC also argues that aggregated information is insufficient to enable the public to ascertain whether stations are meeting their statutory obligations with respect to lowest unit rate, equal opportunities, and public disclosure of the sources of political ads.
     Comments are due by Aug. 26.