For decades, the public file for each station has been kept at the station’s main studio in paper form (or more recently in electronic form at some stations) and made available during normal business hours.  Relying on the advantages of current technology, however, the Commission has now changed its rules to require almost all of this public file information for television stations to be posted online at this site.  As a result, members of the public will be able to find station information more easily and at any time convenient to them, and television stations should, at least in the long term, experience a reduced compliance burden.  Radio stations, for the time being, will still keep their public files in paper or electronic form at their stations. 

A station's public file currently includes both items that have to be filed with the Commission and items that are only available in the public file at the station.  After August 2, 2012, almost all of these items will be gathered together and made available here.  The items required to be in the public file, the rule section requiring each item to be placed in the file, and the retention period for each item, are listed below.  A short, plain-language description of each item is also provided, but is included for convenience and should not be relied upon in place of the underlying rules’ description of the item.  The text of the public file rule section requiring each item to be placed in the file can be displayed by clicking on it.  Exceptions to the online filing requirement for any of the below-listed public file items, if applicable, are noted in the description of the relevant item.

  • FCC Authorizations (as required by 73.3526(e)(1)73.3527(e)(1)) (retain until replaced). These are the instruments issued by the Commission to individuals or companies that authorize broadcasting or other use of radio transmissions in connection with broadcasting and include licenses and permits to construct or modify broadcast facilities. 
  • Applications and related materials (as required by 73.3526(e)(2), 73.3527(e)(2)) (retain until final action taken on the application).  These are applications and supporting documents or exhibits submitted to the Commission seeking such things as broadcast licenses, construction permits, special operating authority, or consent to the sale of an existing broadcast facility.
  • Contour Maps (as required by 73.3526(e)(4), 73.3527(e)(3)) (retain as long as they reflect current, accurate information regarding the station). These are graphical representations or “maps” of the area in which a broadcast station provides a particular level of signal strength over-the-air.  They are useful, but general, indications of where service might be expected to be received from the station.  They do not account, however, for the availability of a station’s signal carried by cable or satellite service providers, nor do they suggest that every point inside the contour will receive over-the-air service. 
  • Ownership reports and related materials (as required by 73.3526(e)(5), 73.3527(e)(4)) (retain until a new, complete ownership report is filed with the FCC). These reports are filed every other year and in connection with the sale of a broadcast station and reflect what entities and individuals hold “attributable” interests in a broadcast station (that is, interests the Commission deems convey some influence over the station). 
  • Portions of the Equal Employment Opportunity file (as required by 73.3526(e)(7), 73.3527(e)(6)) (retain until final action taken on the station's next license renewal application). The Commission requires stations employing five or more full-time employees to file the following reports on their EEO activities and put them in their public file:  an EEO public file report (annually); FCC Form 396 – an EEO Program Report that is filed with the license renewal application; FCC Form 397 – an EEO Mid-term Report filed at the mid-point of a license term; and, for buyers of a station or new licensees, FCC Form 396-A – a Model EEO Program Report. 
  • The Public and Broadcasting manual (as required by 73.3526(e)(8), 73.3527(e)(7)) (retain most recent version indefinitely); This pamphlet, written by the Commission, is intended to explain in understandable terms the various aspects and purposes of broadcast service, the Commission’s regulation of it, broadcasters obligations, and how the public can participate in the Commission’s licensing and other administrative processes involving their local broadcast stations.
  • Children's television programming reports (FCC Form 398) (as required by 73.3526(e)(11)(iii)) (retain until final action taken on the station's next license renewal application).  Commercial television stations must prepare and place in their public inspection files a report (Form 398) each calendar quarter that identifies the educational and informational programming for children that they aired.
  • DTV transition education reports (FCC Form 388) (as required by 73.3526(e)(11)(iv), 73.3527(e)(13)) (retain for one year after last filed).  This form reports efforts by stations to inform their audiences on the stations’ progress in making the transition to full digital service.  Because virtually all stations required to do so have fully converted to digital mode, this form is only relevant to a very small number of stations and will soon become obsolete.
  • Citizen agreements (as required by 73.3526(e)(3)) (retain for term of agreement). These are agreements between citizens’ groups and broadcast stations that are entered primarily for noncommercial purposes and that deal directly or indirectly with the stations’ broadcast service to their communities.  Not all stations will have such agreements, but if they do, they must be in the public file.
  • Political file (as required by 73.3526(e)(6), 73.3527(e)(5)) (retain for two years).  This file must contain all requests for specific schedules of advertising time by candidates and certain issue advertisers, as well as the final dispositions or “deals” agreed to by the broadcaster and the advertiser in response to any requests.  It is not necessary to retain any of the materials relating to the negotiation between the parties to reach the disposition.  Finally, the file must include the reconciliation of the deal such as a description of when advertising actually aired, advertising preempted, and the timing of any make-goods of preempted time, as well as credits or rebates provided the advertiser.  The request and disposition must be placed in the file as soon as possible, which the Commission has determined is immediately absent extraordinary circumstances.  The reconciliation information need not be placed in the file immediately but the broadcaster must identify a person or persons at the station capable of informing an advertiser of the details of any reconciliation information.  Documents placed in this folder on or after August 2, 2012, by stations affiliated with the top four major television networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) in the top 50 television markets (DMAs) in the country will be available here.  Older information in this file for these stations will remain in the stations’ local public files, either in paper or electronic form.  This could result in the documentation for some political time purchases being split between the local station file and the online Commission file.  All political file documentation for stations not affiliated with the top four networks or not in the top 50 markets will remain available at the stations.  Political file information for these excluded stations will be made available in the online file on a phased-in, going-forward basis beginning on July 1, 2014. 
  • Letters and e-mails from the public (as required by 73.3526(e)(9)) (retain three years from receipt). These are written or email comments or suggestions received by stations from the public that concern the operation of the stations.  Largely for privacy reasons, these will be retained at the stations in either paper or electronic form and will not be made available online.
  • Material relating to FCC investigations and complaints (as required by 73.3526(e)(10), 73.3527(e)(11)) (retain until notified in writing that the material may be discarded).  This is material that has a substantial bearing on an FCC investigation or complaint to the FCC involving the station and of which the station is aware.  Some or all of the material in this category may be excluded from the public file at the Commission’s direction (for example, Letters of Inquiry from the Enforcement Bureau should be excluded in order to protect the investigation process).
  • Issues/Programs lists (as required by 73.3526(e)(11)(i), 73.3527(e)(8)) (retain until notified in writing that the material may be discarded). These are quarterly lists prepared by stations of programs they aired during the preceding quarter that provided the stations’ most significant treatment of community issues.
  • Donor lists for non-commercial educational channels ("NCEs") (as required by 73.3527(e)(9)) (retain for two years from the date of the broadcast of the specific program reported).  These are lists of donors that have supported specific programs aired by the stations.
  • Records concerning children's programming commercial limits (as required by 73.3526(e)(11)(ii)) (retain until final action taken on the station's next license renewal application).  These are records that substantiate stations’ compliance with the Children’s Television Act of 1990 and the FCC’s rules that limit the type and amount of advertising during TV programming that is directed to children 12 and under.
  • Local public notice certifications and announcements (as required by 73.3526(e)(13), 73.3527(e)(10)) (retain for as long as the application to which it refers); These are certifications that the station has made the necessary public on-air announcements when it files an application with the FCC for renewal of its broadcast license.
  • Time brokerage agreements (as required by 73.3526(e)(14)) (retain for as long as contract or agreement in force).  These are contracts or agreements that allow one or more parties other than the station’s owner to provide programming, sell advertising time in the brokered programming and, in some cases, operate the station on a day-to-day basis. These agreements are sometimes referred to as Local Marketing Agreements or LMAs.  Confidential or proprietary information may be redacted from these documents.
  • Must-carry or retransmission consent elections (for commercial stations) or must-carry requests (noncommercial stations) (as required by 73.3526(e)(15), 73.3527(e)(12)) (retain for duration of election or request period).  These are statements of a station’s election to be carried on multichannel video program distributor (MVPD) systems, such as cable systems or direct broadcast satellite services, either by negotiated retransmission consent agreements or by mandatory carriage under the Commission’s rules.
  • Joint sales agreements (as required by 73.3526(e)(16)) (retain for as long as contract or agreement in force).  These are contracts or agreements that allow one or more parties other than the station’s owner to sell advertising time on the station.  Confidential or proprietary information may be redacted from these documents.
  • Class A TV continuing eligibility documentation (as required by 73.3526(e)(17)) (retain indefinitely).  These are documents that substantiate the continuing eligibility of a low-power television station for Class A status, which affords the station the same interference protection as a full power television station.  To retain Class A status, the station must broadcast at least 18 hours per day, and air at least three hours per week of locally produced programming.
  • Sponsorship Identification - Political Matter and Controversial Issues of Public Importance (as required by 73.1212(e)) (retain for two years). This file contains a list of the chief executive officers or members of the executive committee or board of directors, as applicable, of any entity that has paid for or furnished television broadcast programming that is “political matter or matter involving the discussion of a controversial issue of public importance.”  This additional sponsorship identification information must be kept by all broadcast stations in their public inspection file pursuant to Section 73.1212(e) of the FCC’s rules.  To the extent stations place this material in their political file, which is common industry practice and which satisfies the rule’s disclosure requirement, they would be required to upload these files on the same schedule as their political files.  As noted elsewhere, this schedule requires stations in the top 50 DMAs that are affiliated with the top four national television networks to begin uploading their political files on August 2, 2012, on a going-forward basis.  All other stations will maintain their political files at their stations until July 1, 2014, when they will begin uploading these files to the online site on a going-forward basis.