On December 1 of this year, Biennial Ownership Reports are due to be filed at the FCC by all full-power radio and TV stations, commercial and noncommercial, as well as from Class A TV and LPTV operators. These reports are due every two years. While the last two biennial reports that had been due in December 2019 and in December 2017 had their deadlines extended to early the next year because of issues with the FCC forms that were at that point still being refined, no such issues are expected this year. In fact, a month ago when the window opened for filing these reports, the FCC released a Public Notice reminding broadcasters of the filing deadline, emphasizing its importance, and issuing this warning that there may well be fines or other penalties for stations that do not timely file this required report:
Consistent with the importance of this information, Commission staff intends to pursue enforcement actions against licensees that fail to file their biennial ownership reports in a timely or complete manner.
Why does the Commission collect this information? Biennial ownership information not only keeps track for the public of who owns broadcast properties, but it also allows the Commission to track broadcast ownership. In recent years, the reports ask for the gender and race/ethnicity of owners of stations (and control parties of noncommercial stations), and the Commission plans to use this information to track industry ownership trends. This was an issue in the most recent change in the broadcast ownership rules, where the Third Circuit, before being overturned by the Supreme Court, had wanted the FCC to determine the impact of past changes in its ownership rules on minority and female ownership – and the FCC fought back, claiming that it did not have that information (see our article here). These reports are one way in which such information is supposed to be provided by the FCC.
These reports can, at times, require some work to complete – particularly in collecting information from owners and others with attributable interests in broadcast stations (including officers and directors). Individuals and investment entities with interests in multiple broadcast companies have to have the same FCC Registration Number (FRN) used to give them a unique identifier throughout the broadcast industry – an identifier that can be used to collate their interests throughout the industry. For commercial companies, that identifier requires use of a social security number. For noncommercial companies, a unique identifier can be obtained without the social security number, but the same “Special Use FRN” or “SUFRN” must still be used by individuals with interests (including Board positions) in multiple companies (see our article here).
Where a company, a trust or another legal entity owns interests in another company that holds broadcast licenses, reports need to be filed not only for the licensee, but also for each entity that owns an attributable interest in the licensee. Also, for all commercial operators, filing fees are required for the submission of these reports.
So it important to get started on completing these reports now. Do not wait until just before the December 1 deadline, as it does not appear that any extension is in the works. Also, the FCC’s LMS electronic filing system can run slow when a big filing deadline like this one approaches, so if you wait until the last minute, you can get shut out of the system. More information on completing the report is available in a video informational session run by FCC staff which is archived, here, and answers to frequently asked questions from the FCC are available here. Don’t delay in meeting this important deadline.