In the last year, noncommercial broadcast stations, both radio and TV, have been filing their Biennial Ownership Reports on FCC Form 323-E every other year, on the anniversary date of the filing of their license renewal applications. This meant that, every other month noncommercial stations in a few states had to submit those reports, with the radio stations in a state submitting them one year and the TV stations in that state the next (as the renewal terms for radio and TV are off by one year, so are the even anniversary dates of the renewal filings). Last year, as we wrote here, the FCC decided that all noncommercial stations, both radio and TV, would file their Biennial Ownership Reports on December 1 of every odd-numbered year – at the same time as commercial radio stations file their Biennial Ownership Reports. But, until this week, the FCC had not suspended the requirement that the noncommercial stations continue to file on the anniversary date of the due date for their renewal application, as the new rule mandating the uniform December 1 filing had not yet become effective. The FCC on Tuesday issued a Public Notice suspending the anniversary date filings in 2017 – but all noncommercial broadcasters still will need to file a report next year – by the uniform December 1 filing deadline.
The new rule has not become fully effective because it is being appealed by certain noncommercial groups worried about the new information required for the Biennial Reports, requiring all officers and directors (or their equivalents) to get FCC Registration Numbers (FRNs), which requires that they either submit to the FCC their Social Security Numbers or, in the alternative, certain specific personal information that uniquely identifies those people. See our post here for more details on the required information. Even though this information is submitted confidentially to the FCC merely for purposes of obtaining the FRN, there is the fear that some of these attributable owners will be reluctant to provide that information to the FCC. This is especially true for universities and other government-owned broadcast stations, where the attributable owners are the governing board of the school or other institution. These members who need to be reported to the FCC are often important people in a state or community, who signed up to be on the board of the school or other institution, not specifically to be connected to a radio or TV station. In many cases, the broadcast station may be a very insignificant part of their responsibilities. To avoid annoying these board members, the appeal of that information collection requirement has been filed.
We will see how this requirement plays out under the new FCC, where the two holdover Republican commissioners had expressed some skepticism as to whether this information was really necessary. The FCC had justified the collection requirement so as to be able to fully track the owners of broadcast stations across all of their broadcast holdings to assess diversity in broadcast ownership. The FCC deemed this most easily done by having a unique searchable identification number associated with each such individual. Stay tuned – but expect one way or the other, with or without the unique FRN for each member of the station’s governing board, that all noncommercial stations will be filing their ownership reports by December 1 of this year (with the information provided accurate as of October 1, 2017).