FCC approves new database to encourage government transparency

Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012

When the election buzz hits the country every four years, questions abound as to where all the money for television campaigns comes from, or at least how much is being spent on advertisements. While the issue is only cast into the spotlight once every four years, it is a problem all the time, as state, county and local elections happen at a fairly frequent basis. To help create transparency within the political campaigning process, the Federal Communications Commission has approved a formal proposal that mandates network television stations to put campaign ad charges in a publicly-accessible database, the New York Times reported.

According to the news source, the creation of the new database was a hotly contested issue. Broadcasting industry representatives presented significant concerns that the publishing or prices would make it difficult for networks to maintain competitive balance. However, the opinion that the various benefits to the general public far outweighs any damages to the networks won out. As a result, the bill was passed and broadcasters will need to digitize their sales records and submit them to the database to ensure compliance.

The report said that the FCC is not ignoring the concerns presented by broadcasters, but will closely evaluate the program for a year to discern if it has a significant enough impact on ad pricing to be discontinued.

Transparency has been emerging as a key issue for government organizations in recent years, as efforts to give the public greater visibility into official workings have borne fruit. However, government agencies are not the only ones who can benefit from the precedent set by this new databases. Businesses can also learn a lot from the efforts of the FCC.

When considering the government as a business, the closest thing it has to a customer is the public. Essentially, constituents pay taxes and similar fees to support the government, and they vote officials into place based on how well they will make use of the finances. As a result, the public demands transparency into how its money is used. For corporations, the responsibility to the customer may be completely different, but the benefits of transparency could be the same.

For example, an IT service provider can deliver incredible benefits to its customers, as it helps organizations without the internal resources to manage their own IT departments and access robust technologies that are strategically deployed and managed by the vendor. In this arrangement, the customer invests a certain amount of money to the service provider, and gets taken care of in response. The relationship is extremely similar to that of the government and the public. While a service provider does not owe its clients transparency, it can gain a competitive advantage over its peers by giving customers visibility into how pricing models are developed.

A service provider could leverage a cost database to show clients exactly where their funds go. Customers can then see how much they are spending on staff, how much on technological maintenance, the amount that goes to overhead costs and other parts of the final fee. A company that prides itself on efficiently using a client's money to offer top notch services can gain considerable leverage over competitors by showing exactly how funds are used. Transparency can pay off.

Regardless of how a company wants to use a DB to establish transparency, working with an open source database is often the easiest path. The type of setup needed to support such a system is somewhat non-traditional, making the flexibility offered by open source software an essential requirement.