The Federal government shutdown that we speculated about last week has now come to pass, and the clearest evidence is that, when you go to the FCC website, you are greeted by a special message essentially saying that the website is not available until after the shutdown ends. So, as we speculated last week, broadcast (and most other) applicants can’t even begin to prepare applications for filing when the government reopens, as the Commission’s CDBS database (as well as there other systems for filing electronic applications) is not available. Nor can you even access information about pending applications, pleadings that have been filed, or any of the other detailed information that is available on the FCC’s usually informative website. You’ll even note that links to FCC actions contained in many of the posts on this blog will not work, as the documents to which they link are resident on the FCC website. Similar notices are on most other government agency sites like, for instance, the Copyright Office site.
What is a broadcaster to do when they have an application or other deadline that falls during shutdown period? Stations sales will no doubt be closed, stations will be constructed with license applications due to be filed, there are license renewals that were due yesterday for radio stations in the Pacific northwest, Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific territories, and other pleadings and filings that are either now due, or will become due if the shutdown persists. One of the few documents that is available on the FCC’s site is a Public Notice on the Procedure for Filing in the Event of a Lapse in Funding, which provides a minimal amount of information about what is next. Beyond saying that the FCC is essentially closed, the notice does say that filings due during the shutdown would be due the day after the FCC returns to normal operations. The notice gives the example that, if funding is restored on a Monday, the FCC would return to normal operations on Tuesday, and filings due during the interim would be due on Wednesday. The Notice also states that, if there are issues restarting the electronic filing databases after the government reopens, further public notices will be issued, which presumably could further extend filing deadlines.
The FCC does warn those that are regulated by it, that just because the routine processing of FCC applications has ceased, not all obligations have lapsed. Stations planning site changes can continue to pursue, for instance, environmental review of their proposals by State Historical Preservation Offices (SHPO), and timelines associated with such approvals will continue to run. Also, emergency contact numbers are available for problems that can affect health and safety. So FCC Field Offices will continue to shut down pirates who interfere with aeronautical frequencies. While not mentioned by the FCC, it would seem clear that any issues with tower lighting should also continue to be reported to the FAA so that appropriate notices can be provided to aircraft.
In the interim,many broadcasters will be forced to wait. As always, there are many applications for changes in the facilities of stations that are pending at the FCC, and many applications for approvals of purchases and sales of stations that will not be able to close until the FCC reopens and can approve the pending applications. Depending on how long this shutdown lasts, even the upcoming LPFM filing window could be in jeopardy. (See this Public Notice suspending filing deadline in a wireless auction that was to run through October 9).
In the interim, the employees who are furloughed are not allowed to engage in any FCC business, so don’t expect any email responses from home computers or mobile phones. See the Plan for Orderly Shutdown, issued by the FCC. Only essential employees will continue to work, and there are but a handful of those, and they are not empowered to process any routine applications. So those regulated by the FCC, like so many other Americans, need to wait to see what the future brings in connection with their interactions with the Federal government.
Additional Thought – 10/2/2013 2:12 PM - Normally, at the beginning of each month, we try to post an article setting out many of the upcoming month’s regulatory deadlines for broadcasters. This month, given the uncertainties imposed by the shutdown, we have not done that. As there are concerns in Washington that the issues underlying the original shutdown may be broadened to encompass issues concerning the upcoming need to extend the Federal debt limit, it may be that the shutdown will not soon end. So we’ll postpone any article about this month’s FCC dates until the shutdown issues have been resolved and those dates become clearer - whenever that might be!