EEO Compliance/Diversity

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?


Continue Reading FCC Announces Biennial Ownership Report Filing Window is Open – Reports to be filed by December 2 By All Commercial Broadcasters

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. 


Continue Reading Filing Deadline for FCC Form 323 Biennial Ownership Reports Extended Until December 2 – Why the Delay?

Another month is upon us, along with all of the FCC regulatory obligations that accompany it. August brings a host of license renewal obligations, along with EEO public file obligations in a number of states, as well as noncommercial Biennial Ownership Report filings in several states. We also expect that the FCC will notify stations of the date for the payment of their regulatory fees (which will either be due late this month or early next). As we reported yesterday, the filing of long-form translator applications for over 1000 applicants from the 2003 FM translator window also comes at the end of the month. There are comments due in a number of FCC proceedings. We’ll talk about some of those issues below. For TV broadcasters, we also suggest that you review our article that recently ran in TV NewsCheck, updating TV broadcasters on issues of relevance to them not only this month, but providing a description of the full gamut of issues facing TV broadcasters. We prepare this update for TV NewsCheck quarterly.

Today brings the deadline for the filing of license renewal applications for radio stations in California and for TV stations in Illinois and WisconsinStations in these states, and in North and South Carolina also have EEO public inspection file reports that should be placed in their public inspection files no later than today. Noncommercial TV stations in Illinois and Wisconsin also need to file Biennial Ownership Reports today, and noncommercial radio stations in California, North Carolina, and South Carolina should also file their Biennial Ownership Reports by today.


Continue Reading August FCC Regulatory Deadlines for Broadcasters – Including Renewals; EEO; Comments on Indecency, the Online Public File and Cross-Ownership

It looks like the FCC’s long-delayed multiple ownership proceeding won’t be decided this summer. The FCC has asked for public comment on the report submitted by the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council ("MMTC") addressing the likely impact on minority ownership of broadcast stations of allowing more media cross-ownership. Moths ago, the FCC delayed the resolution of the proceeding to allow for the submission of this report (see our article here). The issue of minority ownership, and the impact of any ownership deregulation has been one of the big obstacles to any decision in this proceeding. Relaxation of the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership prohibitions have been proposed, and one might think that the preservation of newspapers might be of paramount importance to the FCC.  In fact, the Commission has been concerned about complaints from certain “public interest” groups who fear the impact that such combinations would have on the potential for more minority ownership. So this report was commissioned by MMTC, an organization dedicated to promoting minority ownership in all media. Now that the report has been submitted, the FCC needs to wait for public comment on its findings before any decisions in the ownership proceeding are made. Comments on the report are due on July 22, and Replies can be filed through August 6.

The FCC has already delayed the ownership proceeding at least once while taking comments on minority ownership issues. See our article from December, when the FCC asked for comments on the impact of cross-ownership on the prospects for minority ownership. The call for the December comments was initiated by the release of an FCC summary of minority ownership gleaned from FCC ownership report filings. In filings made in response to the FCC’s December comment deadline, some parties suggested that the findings of the FCC data revealed that minority ownership prospects were bleak, and that cross-ownership would make them bleaker, while others suggested just the opposite. Others contended that the two questions really were not related – that there were other reasons, like the lack of access to capital, that really explained the difficulties that all potential new media entrants have.  The release of the new study is quite likely to prompt a similar response, with comments likely to present a spectrum of opinions. 


Continue Reading FCC Seeks More Comments on the Effect of Newspaper-Broadcast Cross Ownership on Minority Ownership of Broadcast Stations

Two weeks ago, comments were filed in the Commission’s proceeding examining whether to adopt a more relaxed view of the foreign ownership provisions of the Communications Act (see our article about that proceeding here). While the Communications Act limits foreign ownership in communications licensees to 20% (or 25% of a licensee holding company), the Act also allows the Commission to allow greater foreign ownership if it would not adversely affect the public interest. In areas other than broadcasting, the Commission has routinely allowed ownership of more than 25% of a communications licensee, but the limit has been strictly enforced in the broadcasting world. Many of the comments filed in response to the Commission’s request made exactly that point – that in a multimedia world, why should a wireless company or a cable programmer be allowed to be foreign owned, while a competing broadcaster can’t have foreign investors holding more than 25% of its equity?  In what is perhaps a telling indication of where the FCC is going, the statements of three FCC Commissioners, in connection with a recent FCC decision to further streamline the approval process for alien ownership in excess of the 25% limitations in FCC-regulated areas other than broadcasting, suggested that the relaxation of the limits should also be extended to broadcasting.

Two weeks ago, in relaxing rules on the investment of non-US companies and individuals in common carrier licensees and those in certain other non-broadcast services, the Commission vastly simplified the reporting and approval process for alien ownership in excess of the statutory limits. The Commission already had in place a policy of reviewing potential foreign ownership in non-broadcast companies where, through a petition for declaratory ruling, a company could seek FCC approval for ownership, and even control, of these entities by non-US citizens or companies. In the recent proceeding, the FCC made such investment even easier, in very general terms easing certain reporting requirements for alien ownership where the interest of a specific alien investor was less than 5% (10 % in some instances), and also allowing an alien individual or group, once approved, to increase ownership without further approval (if the interest is a minority ownership interest, to 49%, and if it was controlling, to 100%), as long as the interest in possibly doing so is revealed in the original request for approval. Allowing investments by affiliates of the foreign owner, and allowing the company that is approved to seek additional licenses, all without additional approvals, was also allowed in many instances. All these changes were allowed subject to the FCC’s right to reexamine any holdings if specific issues were raised.  But what was most interesting to those in the broadcasting industry were the statements of three of the Commissioners praising these relaxations, and the hopes that the examination of applying these reforms in the broadcast world would move forward quickly.


Continue Reading A Change in the FCC’s Broadcast Foreign Ownership Rules In the Near Future?

April is one of those months in which many FCC obligations are triggered for broadcasters. There are the normal obligations, like the Quarterly Issues Programs lists, that need to be in the public file of all broadcast stations, radio and TV, commercial and noncommercial, by April 10. Quarterly Children’s television reports are due to be submitted by TV stations. And there are renewal obligations for stations in many states, as well as EEO Public File Reports that are due to be placed in station’s public files and on their websites. The end of March also brings the obligation for television broadcasters to start captioning live and near-live programming that is captioned on air, and then rebroadcast on the Internet. Finally, there are comment deadlines on the FCC’s proposal to relax the foreign ownership limits, and an FM auction and continuing FM translator filing requirements.

Radio stations in Texas and television stations in Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana have renewal applications due on April 1. The license renewal pre-filing broadcast announcements for radio stations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and for TV stations in Michigan and Ohio, must begin on April 1. All of these stations will be filing their renewals by June 1. EEO Annual Public file reports for all stations (radio and TV) with five or more full-time employees, which are located in Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Delaware, Pennsylvania or Indiana, must be placed in their public files (which are now online for TV broadcasters) by April 1.   Noncommercial radio stations in Texas, and noncommercial TV stations in Tennessee, Indiana Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky must also file their Biennial Ownership Reports by April 1


Continue Reading April FCC Obligations for Broadcasters – Renewals, EEO, Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, Captioning of Live or Near-Live Online Programming, FM Translator Filings, an FM Auction and Comments on Alien Ownership

We wrote in December about the delays in the FCC’s proceeding to consider whether changes should be made to its multiple ownership rules. The December delays were to allow for public comment on ownership information obtained from broadcasters in their Form 323 Ownership Reports. Specifically, the public was asked to comment on the what the ownership information revealed about ownership of broadcast properties by members of minority groups, and whether proposed reforms in the ownership rules would affect minority ownership.  Comments from certain public interest groups suggested that any relaxation of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules or the rules limiting radio-TV cross-ownership would further adversely affect minority ownership, a position that seemingly made certain of the FCC Commissioners reluctant to approve any changes in the ownership rules. This week, the Commission announced another delay in any resolution of this proceeding as the MMTC (the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council) has commissioned a study of the impact of any further consolidation in media ownership on minority broadcast operators.

The study, to be conducted by the broadcast financial analysis firm BIA Kelsey, is supposed to be conducted quickly – in the next 60 days. It is also supposed to be peer reviewed to analyze its methodology and conclusions, and will probably be subject to further public comment at the FCC once it is filed in the record of the multiple ownership proceeding. So this means that there will be likely no decision as to changes in the ownership rules for at least 3 or 4 months – and perhaps longer.


Continue Reading Further Delay in Multiple Ownership Proceeding as the FCC Awaits New Study on the Impact on Minority Ownership of Any Relaxation of the Cross-Interest Rules

The limits on the ownership of broadcast stations by those who are not US citizens is being re-examined by the FCC according to a recent Public Notice. Under Section 310(b)(4) of the Communications Act, foreign ownership of a broadcast licensee is limited to 20% of the company’s stock, or no more than 25% of a parent company of the licensee. Over the years, there has been a significant body of precedent developed about applying these caps to other business organizations, including LLCs and Limited Partnerships.  But the caps remain in place, limiting foreign ownership.  While the statute gives the FCC discretion to allow greater amounts of "alien ownership", the FCC has not exercised that discretion for broadcast companies (though, for non-broadcast licenses, the FCC has many times found greater percentages of foreign ownership to be permissible). A coalition of broadcast groups last year filed a request asking that the FCC exercise the discretion provided under the Act, and consider on a case-by-case basis whether alien ownership combinations in excess of 25% should be permitted. The Commission has now asked for public comment on that proposal. Comments are due on April 15, with replies due on April 30.

Why is this important? Many broadcasters have pushed for revisions in the alien ownership limits for decades – seeing foreign investors as a potential source of capital to allow new companies to buy stations or existing companies to expand their holdings. Many minority advocacy groups, too, have thought that relaxation of the alien ownership rules would provide more sources of capital for minority owners to get into the broadcast game. Spanish language broadcasters, in particular, see broadcasters and other investors from other Spanish-speaking countries as being likely sources of new investors in broadcast companies or new buyers for US broadcast stations. 


Continue Reading FCC To Consider Allowing Alien Ownership of More Than 25% of Broadcast Licensees – Comments Due April 15