The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice announcing that it will be holding an information session on November 28, 2017 at 1 PM Eastern Time to familiarize broadcasters with the new Biennial Ownership Report forms. This information session can be viewed live online and will also be archived for viewing after the session (archive

Update 11/23/2009 – the Commission has just extended the filing deadline for the Form 323 until January 11, 2010.  See our post here for more details. 

December 15 is that date on which the new FCC Form 323 Ownership Report is to be filed at the FCC – yet the revised form is not yet available in the FCC’s CDBS electronic filing database.  What is a broadcaster to do?  The form will require significantly more work to complete than was necessary on prior versions – and it requires more information provided in a different manner than on the old form.  The information on the old form cannot simply be imported into the new form – everything needs to be re-entered.  And information that used to be provided by exhibit in older versions of the form has to be manually entered into separate searchable fields on the new form.  For broadcasters with many principals who have many broadcast interests, the form will take significant time to complete.  All commercial licensees, including LPTV licensees who have never before had to file, must submit the report.  Each attributable owner of each licensee (see our Advisory for a very basic explanation of attributable interests) will also need to have his or her own FCC registration number ("FRN") in order to complete the form – all to be done by December 15.  But will that date potentially change?

While the FCC has issued a series of Questions and Answers about the form (and we have published our own Advisory to prepare for the filing of the form, here), licensees can’t start filling out the form yet as the revised for is not yet available electronically.  So the difficulties that will no doubt be discovered as hundreds of broadcasters try to complete the form for the first time have yet to even be fully identified.  Even if the form does become available today, there still will be a significant potential for a very messy filing window.  Confusion will likely occur as every commercial broadcaster must file the form, some for the first time, and many will no doubt have questions about the process.  From the calls that we are getting already, the anxiety and confusion among broadcasters is great.  The prospects of a filing "trainwreck" has been the subject of much talk in Washington among lawyers like us who represent broadcasters.  With much of next week taken up with the Thanksgiving holiday, there simply will not be time for every question to be answered, and for every broadcaster to be ready to file by the December 15 deadline.  This week, one law firm went so far as to formally request that the Commission postpone the filing date.  We would not be surprised if this petition is successful, or if the Commission on its own motion decides to extend the deadline.  But the filing deadline has not yet been delayed, so broadcasters should still plan on meeting the current deadline (and, even if extended, any delay will not be indefinite, so broadcasters still need to be getting ready).  What can a broadcaster do now?

Continue Reading It’s November 20, and Still No New Form 323 Ownership Report – What’s a Broadcaster to Do?

Several months ago, we wrote of the FCC’s requirements for a new biennial Ownership Report for all commercial broadcast stations – to be filed by all stations in every state on November 1 of every other year – beginning with November 1 of this year.  The FCC has even suspended the requirements for commercial stations to file reports that were due between the date that the rule was adopted and November 1 (reports being due on the even anniversaries of the filing of license renewal applications for stations in the state to which the station is licensed). Yet, here we are, less than a month from the supposed filing deadline for the new forms, and we’ve not seen any notice from the FCC that the new forms are ready to be used or any reminder for broadcasters to prepare and file those reports.  What gives?  Well, the Paperwork Reduction Act has struck again.

We’ve written about the Paperwork Reduction Act before, and its obligation that the FCC (or almost any other government agency) has to justify any new paperwork obligation that it is imposing on companies that it regulates – showing that the burden is as minimal as possible and serves a necessary regulatory process.  Here, when the new ownership reports on FCC Form 323 were submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for approval under the Paperwork Reduction Act, several parties, including the NAB, objected that information requested by the new form was unnecessarily complex, and in fact might violate other Federal laws (in particular Federal Privacy laws) as they required not only the filing of information about the companies who own radio stations with identification of their owners, but required that each and every attributable owner of a station (and actually including a few nonattributable owners who must be reported under the new reporting scheme), obtain an FCC "FRN" identification number that would be attached to that person and uniquely identify them in connection with each and every broadcast interest that they have.  In most cases, that would require that the individual provide a social security number (and  corporate entities would have to file Taxpayer ID numbers).  While the FCC promised to keep those identification numbers private, security issues were not addressed and questions were raised why the Commission had to put so many individuals through so much of a burden when the FCC reports had not been adopted to track individual ownership interests, but instead to track the minority ownership of broadcast stations.  Other issues with the new forms were also raised, as the new forms would have required many filings for stations held in independent corporations, but with a common parent company as parent companies cannot simply cross-reference multiple licensee companies that they own, but instead have to file multiple ownership reports for each licensee company in which they have an interest.  In addition, ownership structures and other broadcast interests can no longer be identified by PDF attachments, but they instead needed to be separately entered into their own fields on the new form.  The idea was to make the information searchable – but it would also result in vastly more time to prepare these reports.

Continue Reading So What Happened to Those New Ownership Reports that Were Supposed to Be Filed on November 1?