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Extra credit and updogs: one year in FCC documents

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As part of the newsgathering process, The Verge sends Freedom of Information Act requests, asking for documents maintained under federal law. On a good day, we get something noteworthy; it's how we got the Federal Communications Commission's emails about John Oliver, for one example.

But here's a secret: the majority of requests go exactly nowhere. For every story you read, there were a handful that never reached escape velocity — requests that were denied, where records didn't exist, or where the documents handed over weren't all that interesting.

That's where it gets weird. The FCC closed at least 800 FOIA requests in 2015, according to a log of requests turned over as part of a FOIA request for FOIA requests. A few highlights from that log follow.

Complaints:

If forced to categorize, I would say that the most requested species of request was the complaint. The FCC is the custodian of complaints filed for TV programming, and those complaints are public records. In the documents, there are requests for complaints about children's shows, including "Dora the Explorer" and "Arthur"; for TLC's "My Teen is Pregnant and So Am I"; and multiple requests related to LeBron James' penis, which appeared to have been briefly shown during a game last year. (TMZ made a similar request for a second appearance of sports-related nudity.)

fcc complaint

To whom this may concern, I am requesting documents of all FCC complaints received from 2012-2015 for the following TV shows: Sesame Street, Yo Gabba Gabba, Dinosaur Train, Dora The Explorer, Phineas and Ferb, and Arthur.

tmz foia

On a national telecast of the NBA Finals (Game 4) on July 11, 2015, ABC broadcast an image of what appears to be Cleveland Cavaliers player LeBron James’ penis. James was adjusting his shorts prior to the start of the game, when he inadvertently exposed his penis, which was aired. Under FCC guidelines, this seemingly violated regulations.

Net neutrality:

In a big year for net neutrality, you won't be surprised to hear several requests were made on the topic. Before the FCC released its full net neutrality order, several people preemptively requested it. (Some requests resemble the public comments the FCC gathered on the topic.) There were requests made for Chairman Tom Wheeler's calendar before the net neutrality vote, and one made for class extra credit.

fcc net neutrality foia

How do I get a copy of the proposed regulation documents prior to the vote????
I am requesting a copy of the 332 pages law that pertains to the ongoing Net Neutrality decision that the FCC will be making in 120 days.

extra credit foia

So, my teacher was talking about FOIYA and i was very interested and when she said extra credit I jumped on the opportunity to learn more about this act. I am interested in the FCC and net neutrality because they are issues that I care deeply about.

Surveillance:

Several requests were made for FCC information on cell site surveillance devices, such as the Stingray. One was sent from a correctional facility — not a first for such a request, either.

stingray foia

A copy of any and all user manuals for the following items manufactured by the Harris Corporation.

The bizarre:

Some of the requests are nearly inexplicable, including a request for information on a satellite named "Michael" and messages relating to Carnival Cruise Lines.

michael foia

Information on the Satellite named Michael.

satellite fcc

Pre-recorded messages and 2. Carnival Cruise Lines from 8/12 through 3/14.

The updog:

The Verge filed a handful of requests with the FCC over the year — for documents related to companies like AT&T and Dish, as well as for the FCC's "continuity of operations" plan, the federally mandated plan to put in place if a disaster strikes the United States. (Exempt from disclosure for security reasons.) As part of a request to several federal agencies that has not (yet) panned out, Verge reporter Jacob Kastrenakes also made the following request:

fcc updog

All emails within the agency that contain the word "updog."

Unfortunately, no documents were found for that request.