FCC may change rules on ad-buy data

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler on Thursday circulated a notice of proposed rule-making that would require cable, satellite and radio companies to post information about political advertisements online. 

If the commission approved the measure, it would bring those services in line with broadcast television, which was forced in 2012 to begin posting its information on political ad buys.  

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There is no date slated for the commission to vote on the proposal, though it could happen at next month's public meeting or before. A lengthy comment period and final rules would still have to be adopted before new disclosures would be required.

The 2012 rule obligated television broadcasters to post the information online to a database on the FCC website. The information includes details such the size of the buy and the name of the person, campaign or group who sponsored it.

The public for years has been able to view the information, but it was inaccessible to most people because it could only be seen in person at particular stations. 

In August, the commission began seeking comment to broaden the rules to cover cable, satellite and radio after the Sunlight Foundation, Common Cause and the Campaign Legal Center urged the change.

Time Warner Cable has voluntarily started posting the relevant details online and firms have already begun parsing through the data. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association had no comment on the development Thursday.  

The FCC has suggested that its plan was always to broaden the disclosure database and the initial broadcast rules were meant to "ease the initial implementation." 

The National Association of Broadcasters had opposed the online disclosures for broadcast television. But the group said Thursday it supports cable and satellite being made to abide by the same disclosure rules. It took a somewhat more ambivalent stance on radio stations, however.

"We urge the Commission to carefully consider several issues NAB has raised regarding extending the rules to local radio stations, including the sheer number of radio stations and the burdens that would be placed on stations with a limited number of employees," spokesman Dennis Wharton said.