WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators on Friday proposed a rule that would move television broadcasters' public files to the Internet, making it easier to access information about political spending on TV advertising.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it would host the files on its website, allowing people to easily track information about their local TV stations.
Broadcasters have been making certain records public since 1938, such as who bought a political ad, for how much airtime, and at what price.
The information also includes other community-related issues, such as children's programming.
But most TV stations only kept the info on paper, so people had to drive there to look at files and make copies - or rely on expensive media analysis companies that aggregate the data.
That meant the public had limited transparency about TV advertising during political campaigns, where such ads are increasingly powerful.
Spending on TV advertising is likely to reach historic levels in 2012 ahead of the presidential election, as candidates blanket airwaves with commercials promoting their virtues or bashing their opponents.
"What this proposal is about is taking that paper file and catching it up with the 21st century," an FCC official said.
Initially, the rule will only apply to affiliates of the four biggest TV broadcasters in the top 50 media markets.
The four biggest broadcasters are ABC, operated by Disney Co, CBS Corp, News Corp's Fox, and NBC, controlled by Comcast Corp.
In all, these top 200 stations represent about 60 percent of the money spent on political TV ads in an election year, the FCC said.
Smaller stations would have another two years to begin complying with the rule. The FCC said it would cost about $1,000 for stations that have a large paper file and have not already started putting it online.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski must still sign the proposal at a rule-making session at the end of April, after which it must be approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
However, the FCC said it expects the requirement to go into effect before the presidential election in November.
(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)