The FCC yesterday announced that the due dates for Biennial Ownership Reports, which had been December 1 of this year, will now be January 31, 2020. The Order announcing that action is available here. The FCC notice says that this additional time is needed to make updates to the ownership forms in
While we are into the holiday season, that does not stop the routine regulatory obligations for broadcasters. December 1 brings a host of routine obligations for stations in many states. EEO public file reports must be added to the public files of Commercial and Noncommercial Full-Power and Class A Television Stations and AM and FM Radio Stations in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees. Of course, for TV stations and radio stations that have already converted to the online public file, that will mean uploading those reports to the FCC-hosted public file. For all stations, a link needs to be included on the main page of your station website, if your station has a website, which leads to these reports. Mid-Term EEO Reports on FCC Form 397 must be filed with the FCC by December 1 by radio employment units with 11 or more full-time employees in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota and television employment units with five or more full-time employees in Alabama and Georgia. For more on these Mid-Term Reports, see our article here.
A year from now, on December 1, 2017, all broadcast stations are expected to be required to file Biennial Ownership Reports, including noncommercial stations which now have those reports due on the anniversary date of the filing of their license renewal applications. See our article here on the new obligation that will be effective next year, though appeals of that requirement from some noncommercial groups are pending (see our article here). But, until that rule is effective, non-commercial stations need to continue to file on their renewal anniversary dates. Thus, on December 1 of this year, Noncommercial Television Stations in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont and Noncommercial AM and FM Radio Stations in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota have the obligation to submit their Biennial Ownership Reports to the FCC.…
Continue Reading December Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – EEO Reports, Ownership and Ancillary Revenue Reports, Ownership Review and Incentive Auction Updates
In a decision released last Friday, the FCC made clear how far it is willing to go in extending to noncommercial stations leniency for fines for violations of its rules. As we have written before, the FCC changed its policy in a case in which we were involved so as to mitigate harsh penalties for first-time paperwork violations when those violations were by student-run college radio stations. So, if a noncommercial student-run station is found to have missed several years of Quarterly Issues Programs Lists or failed to timely file Biennial Ownership Reports, instead of a fine that would exceed $10,000 had a commercial broadcaster committed the same violations, the noncommercial licensee will usually be able to reach a consent decree with the FCC, reducing the fine to something like $1000 or $1500, but also including a plan to ensure compliance in the future and a requirement for periodic reports to the FCC on the success of that plan. But the FCC made clear that this policy applied only to paperwork violations, and technical operations of the station would not be covered. In a decision released on Friday, the FCC demonstrated that for technical violations, and violations that go beyond your typical paperwork issues, those fines will be higher.
In Friday’s decision, the licensee of an Atlantic City noncommercial radio station filed its license application four years late, long after the station’s license had expired. Thus, for that period, it had been operating without a license. In addition, it had not prepared Quarterly Issues Programs Lists for the entire prior license term and the current one, did not file any Biennial Ownership Reports. Finally, the station had been operating with an antenna that was more than 2 meters below where its license said that it was supposed to be. While the FCC reached a settlement with the licensee, it broke out the “civil penalty” (i.e. a fine) paid by the licensee into two parts. For the missing ownership reports and Quarterly Issues Programs lists, a penalty of $1500 was imposed for violations that would probably have cost a commercial operator many multiples of that amount (see, e.g. our article here about a $10,000 fine for a commercial operator missing Quarterly Issues Programs Lists). But the FCC also asked for an additional $4750 for the late-filed license renewal and the antenna that was several feet below where it was supposed to be. While these might also be less than what a commercial broadcaster would pay for similar violations (see fines issued today, here, here and here, of $1500 each to three broadcasters who filed renewal applications late, but still within the period before their prior licenses had expired, noting that the typical fine for such a violation was $3000, but reducing that amount because of a clean record in the past or inability to pay a higher amount), they do demonstrate that the Commission’s willingness to negotiate minimal penalties for noncommercial broadcasters does have its limits.…
Continue Reading The Limits on FCC Leniency on Fines for Noncommercial Broadcast Stations
Every two years, broadcasters are to file Biennial Ownership Reports on Form 323 to detail the ownership of the companies that hold FCC licenses. Since 2009, all commercial broadcasters across the country are to file such reports in the same window of time. Theoretically, these reports are supposed to be filed between October 1 and November 1 of odd numbered years, yet since the adoption of the uniform date, the November 1 deadline has never held. This year, too, the deadline has been moved (as we wrote here) to December 2. The window for filing such reports is now open, according to an FCC Public Notice released on Friday. As the reports are supposed to detail a company’s ownership report as of October 1, at this point companies should know what that ownership is, so that they can begin the process of completing the forms and getting them on file.
Noncommercial broadcasters are still on a system where they file their biennial reports on the anniversary dates of their license renewals, so the December 2 deadline does not apply to them (except for stations in those few states where December just happens to be the anniversary of their renewal filings, e.g. noncommercial radio stations in New England). However, as we wrote here when the rules for new Biennial Ownership Reports were adopted, the FCC is considering bringing all noncommercial broadcasters into the same system as their commercial brethren. The report forms used by commercial broadcasters for their biennial reports is more complicated than the normal ownership report form, requiring all individuals who have attributable interests in a licensee to get their own FCC Registration Number (or an “FRN” as it is commonly known), which in turn normally requires that the individuals provide a Social Security Number (or Taxpayer ID Number for entities that have interests in licensees). Having to provide that information has been a controversial requirement, with the FCC offering a work around for owners who refuse to provide that information (a work-around that the FCC has proposed to eliminate, a proposal that has not yet been adopted). Why the need for this FRN for every individual?
The FCC has just announced that the Form 323 Biennial Ownership Reports for commercial broadcasters, due to be filed on or before November 1 of this year, will now be due instead by December 2. This is the third straight time that the obligation to file these reports has been extended, due to the complexity and confusion that surrounds the completion of the information that is required on the form. All commercial broadcasters, including LPTV licensees, need to file this form by the new deadline. As set forth in more detail below, at this point, this obligation does not extend to noncommercial educational licensees.
In 2009, the FCC adopted a requirement for modified Biennial Ownership Reports for all commercial stations, requiring that such reports be filed by all commercial broadcasters – including LPTV licensees, sole proprietors, general partnerships and other licensees who had previously been exempt from such obligations. The reports were to be filed on an expanded form that gathers information not just about who the owners of broadcast stations are, but also the race or ethnicity and gender of such owners. This information was to be gathered so that the FCC could better assess the minority ownership of broadcast stations. This was to be used for purposes such as developing new ownership rules for the broadcast industry. In fact, the information gathered from the first set of these forms was recently the subject of comment in the ongoing multiple ownership proceeding at the FCC (see our article here).
The forms were also supposed to be searchable by individual, so that the FCC or interested parties could easily cross-reference the broadcast interests of various individuals. To do so, however, required the gathering of new information, and required that every individual obtain an FCC Registration Number (an FRN), which required that they provide a Social Security or Taxpayer ID Number (for corporate owners of licensees) to the FCC. This obligation stirred much controversy. In addition, the format of the reporting of the other broadcast interests of individuals required much more time than had previous reports. That complexity has not disappeared over time.
The FCC Form 323 Biennial Ownership Report — temporarily off-lined in December for revisions — has been reworked and is now back. The FCC has announced that the revised Form 323 is now available in its CDBS electronic filing system, and that all commercial broadcast stations must file their biennial ownership reports by July 8, 2010. …