House Bill Calls for FCC Transition to Machine-Readable Files

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Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., introduced a bill in the House on Nov. 8 that would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enact regulations requiring  public inspection files to be available online in a machine-readable format.

“The Fair and Clear Campaign Transparency Act would require that the FCC maintain broadcast stations’ public files about political time sold or given away in a machine-readable format,” says a press release from Rep. Luján’s office. “Currently, this information is not made available in an accessible way, presenting a major barrier for the public to know who is funding political advertisements,” he said.

As the full text of the bill explains, former President Barack Obama issued an executive order in May 2013 mandating open and machine-readable data as the default for government information. While the FCC has required television and radio stations to make information about purchasing political advertisements accessible online since 2012, the FCC does not require materials to be machine-readable. The agency feared requiring machine readability would bog down the transition.

“Machine readability is a critical component of open government and provides interested parties with the necessary access to evaluate data in a more comprehensive way,” Rep. Luján’s bill says.

If the bill becomes law, the FCC will have 60 days to transfer political public inspection files into a machine-readable format. All public inspection files will follow suit “as soon thereafter as the Commission considers practicable.”

The Fair and Clear Campaign Transparency Act is one of two bills in a campaign finance reform package introduced by the congressman. The other bill, the Honest Campaigns Act, aims to help viewers determine who is paying for political advertisements by requiring the FCC to disclose who is behind anonymous ads.

The bill does not have a companion in the Senate.

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