The buzz in Washington this week is about whether the FCC and the rest of the Federal government will be open come next Tuesday, October 1. October 1 is the start of the FCC’s fiscal year, and without a “continuing resolution” (Congressional authorization to keep the government running at current levels even without a formal budget), there will be no authorized funds to run the government, and there will effectively be a shut-down of all but “essential” government services. Even if Tuesday’s deadline is averted, the government faces another potential shut-down of some of its functions in the middle of the month (apparently by October 17) unless there is a vote to raise the Federal debt ceiling. As attempts to repeal the new health care law are being tied to the legislation necessary to fund the government, many think that there is a real possibility that we will see a shut-down for the first time in almost twenty years in October. What would such a shutdown mean for broadcasters?
While the FCC has not yet issued a plan for a shutdown, such plans are beginning to be seen at other government agencies. So, while we don’t know for sure what the FCC’s plans would look like yet, we can look at the plan issued in 2011, when the government last came within hours of a shutdown. We wrote about that situation here. Basically, most all of the FCC’s workforce would need to go home, and could not perform any functions while the government is closed. Thus, there will be no construction permits issued for new or improved stations, and no grants of other pending applications – including assignments and transfers – meaning that sales of stations would be in limbo for however long the shutdown lasts. FCC officials could not travel, so they could not attend any broadcaster conventions or other meetings that may have been planned. And, in most other shut-downs (or in shutdown planning), the Commission’s staff was not even allowed to voluntarily do anything related to their official business – so they could not answer emails or phone calls from home, or travel on their own dime to anything related to their official functions.
FCC filings would also probably be put on hold (and one wonders if the electronic filing system would even be available for preparing drafts of applications that would be filed once the government reopened). The due dates for filings and applications would probably be pushed back to the day after the FCC reopens, or some other date established by the FCC. The FCC rules provide that FCC filings that are due on “holidays” get pushed to the next business day. The definition of a holiday includes days when the FCC’s headquarters is not open for normal business until 5:30 PM Eastern time. While the rule was probably written with snow days in mind, the shut-down seems to fit right within its parameters, so one would expect that deadlines would all be pushed back until such time as the FCC reopens.
So, should a prolonged shutdown occur, we could expect processing delays on the many hundreds of translator applications that we are expecting to see granted soon. And, depending on the negotiations over the debt ceiling, even this month’s long-awaited LPFM window, which is scheduled to open on October 15 and run through October 29, could be imperiled. Watch the FCC’s website for more information, and we’ll try to update this article from time to time as details become available.