Data

FCC plans expansion of political ad data requirements

magnifying numbers

The Federal Communications Commission plans to expand its data collection on political ad buys to cable TV operators and broadcast and satellite radio.

Long-standing FCC rules require licensed broadcast stations to maintain "public files" with a host of information that shows how they are meeting various FCC obligations in terms of ownership reports, signal strength, programming, public interaction, and most critically, details on political advertising purchases. Until a few years ago, anyone who wanted to gather information on political ad buys had to visit the stations in person during business hours to examine the public files.

But the FCC issued a rule that went into effect in August 2012, in the midst of a presidential election cycle, that the public file information for broadcast stations in the 50 largest markets would have to be posted online. The rule has applied to all TV broadcasters as of July 2014, and now it looks like cable and radio are going to have to play by the same rules.

The Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, and the Sunlight Foundation petitioned the FCC for the rule, which they hope will lead to greater disclosure of political ad spending.

The FCC hosts the data in a central repository, but individual political ad buys are not exactly easy to locate. Visitors to the main public file page have to specify a station they are searching for, then navigate through several layers of folders to get at the ad insertion orders, which have detailed information on individual advertising purchases, including price, name of buyer, and scheduled airtime. These orders are uploaded as PDFs, and the data has to be extracted manually, and a truly open, searchable database of advertising buys would be a labor-intensive endeavor.

The comment period on the proposed rule closes April 14.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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