FCC registration number

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.
Continue Reading Less than a Month to Go – Reminder to Broadcasters to File Biennial Ownership Reports by December 1 or Potentially Face Penalties

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

Last week, we wrote about two of the three broadcast items to be considered at the FCC meeting on April 20. We wrote here about the draft order to restore the UHF discount, and here about the relaxation of the restrictions on fund-raising for third parties by noncommercial stations. The third item, also related to noncommercial licensees, is the resolution of the long-simmering dispute about whether or not to require that those individuals with attributable interests in noncommercial broadcast stations – officers and board members – to provide their Social Security Numbers or other personal information to the FCC to obtain an FCC Registration Number – an FRN. The draft order released last week indicates that the FCC will eliminate that requirement at its April 20 meeting.

The obligation to obtain an FRN was adopted so that the FCC could comprehensively track the ownership of broadcast stations, and determine the interests of individual parties across the broadcast media nationwide. This was principally done for purposes of assessing the diversity of ownership of the media – including by minorities and women. By making each attributable owner get their own FRN, interests across the broadcast media landscape could be tracked with greater precision. However, objections were raised when the FCC proposed to apply this obligation to noncommercial broadcasters, requiring that officers and board members provide their Social Security Number or other personal information to obtain an FRN. Despite these objections, the previous Commission ordered noncommercial broadcasters to provide this information, going so far as to suggest that attributable interest holders who did not provide the information necessary to obtain an FRN could be sanctioned. See our articles here and here. The current FCC under Chairman Pai rescinded the decision of the Media Bureau upholding the obligation (see our post here) – leading to the draft order to be considered at the April 20 meeting.
Continue Reading FCC to Eliminate Need for Social Security Numbers from Board Members of Noncommercial Licensees for Biennial Ownership Report

A bill was introduced in Congress this week (see press release here) proposing to roll back the FCC’s requirement that noncommercial broadcasters, in connection with the Biennial Ownership Reports that are due by December 1 of this year, get an FCC Registration Number for every person who has an attributable interest in a noncommercial

The FCC’s Media Bureau yesterday issued an order denying reconsideration of the full Commission decision from last year, synchronizing the Biennial Ownership Report filing requirement for noncommercial broadcasters with that of commercial broadcasters, and requiring that all individuals who have attributable interests in these stations obtain an FCC Registration Number (an “FRN”)(see our summary of the FCC order from last year here). Yesterday’s decision triggered a rapid objection from the Commission’s Republican Commissioners, promising to review this decision after the Inauguration when Republicans will likely control the FCC. What is the controversy?

Obtaining an FRN requires supplying the FCC with an individual’s Social Security Number (“SSN”). Last year’s order also provided that stations could obtain a “Restricted Use FRN” for attributable interest holders who did not want to provide their SSN to the FCC, but such individuals would still have to provide at least the last 4 digits of their SSN, along with other specifically identifiable information including their residence address and date of birth. While none of this information is public (it is merely stored in FCC databases that issue the FRN), many noncommercial licensees objected to the requirements, believing that members of their governing boards, who are considered attributable owners for FCC purposes, may be very reluctant to provide that information to stations or the FCC. They pointed particularly to situations like university or other stations operated by educational institutions, where board members volunteer not because they are interested in broadcasting, but instead because they hope to influence the educational objectives of the university. The fear is that having to provide this information could discourage people from serving on these governing boards of educational and similar institutions. In some cases, noncommercial station board members have no real choice about their service – the position is required by virtue of public posts such as university president or school superintendent. See our summary here of those objections.
Continue Reading FCC Denies Reconsideration of Noncommercial Broadcasting Ownership Report Requirements – But Signs that New Commission May See Things Differently

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. 
Continue Reading FCC Suspends Rolling Noncommercial Biennial Ownership Report Deadlines – But All Noncommercial Stations to File Form 323-E by December 1, 2017

The changes in the FCC’s rules for Biennial Ownership Reports on FCC Form 323 were today published in the Federal Register. That publication starts the 30 day clock for petitions for reconsideration or requests for appeal of that decision. We summarized the changes in the requirements here – changes that include putting noncommercial stations on the same schedule as commercial stations (filing on December 1 of odd-numbered years) and requiring that all licensees obtain, for every person or entity with an attributable interest, an FCC Registration Number (an “FRN”). To get an FRN, the licensee must either submit the Social Security number (“SSN”) of the person with an attributable interest (or the Taxpayer ID number if the interest holder is not an individual) or the last four digits of the SSN plus other identifying information (their full name, residence address and date of birth). The requirement for an FRN has triggered concern among many broadcasters, particularly those where licenses are held by a college or university.

Why? Some licensees fear that, even though the personal information necessary to get an FRN will not be made public, the submission of that information to the FCC may still somehow compromise the security or privacy of individuals with attributable interests. While the FCC assured licensees in its order that these concerns are overblown as the Commission says that it maintains information with a high level of security, there are still doubters. Nevertheless, the FCC has required that the FRN be obtained for all attributable interest holders, and threatened to take enforcement action against interest holders who refuse to comply. The FCC also identified for whom the information needs to be provided.
Continue Reading Appeal Date Set for Changes in FCC Rules for Biennial Ownership Reports – Why Many College and University Licensees are Concerned

If all goes as scheduled, at the beginning of December, commercial broadcasters will file Biennial Ownership Reports on FCC Form 323. As we wrote when the obligation to file the current version of these reports was first adopted, the FCC’s intent was to be able to track the interests of broadcast investors across all of their attributable ownership interests in various broadcast companies to assess broadcast diversity. To do so, these investors needed to get individual FCC Registration Numbers (FRNs) to track these individuals or entities across their various investments – so that the FCC could tell whether the John Smith who was an investor in a station in Albuquerque was the same John Smith who owned an interest in a station in Zanesville, and whether that person was also the John Q. Smith listed in an ownership report for a station in Missoula (all hypothetical, of course). The FCC assigns these FRNs to individuals based on their Social Security Numbers, and providing those numbers to the FCC created much unease among investors in connection with past filing windows. This caused the FCC to adopt temporary measures for investors unwilling to provide their SSNs to the FCC (see our articles here). In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released a week ago, the FCC proposed a new method to gather this information – perhaps hoping that it could go into effect before the new Biennial Report filings but, if not, before the next set of reports due in 2017.

The FCC’s new proposal uses a dazzling assortment of acronyms in discussing how best to keep track of unique broadcast investors across their investments. But the bottom line is that the FCC proposes to create a new Restricted Use FRN (or a “RUFRN”) that could be obtained for an individual submitting to the FCC certain information – including name, residence address, birth date and the last four numbers of their Social Security Numbers. The RUFRN would be used by the individual for reporting purposes in whatever broadcast station they may have an attributable interest. The FCC’s computer systems would be programmed to compare such filings to try to make sure that the individuals obtaining an RUFRN were receiving only a single RUFRN, as there have reportedly been problems with the existing interim system (where investors have received a “Special Use FRN” or “SUFRN” randomly generated by the FCC). The problems arose both because single individuals have been obtaining multiple SUFRNs and single SUFRNs have been used to identify multiple people. While thinking that the proposed RUFRNs would be better than SUFRNs (which required no specific identifying information to obtain), the FCC asks for comments on this proposal.
Continue Reading Protecting Broadcast Investors’ Social Security Numbers for the Biennial Ownership Report for Commercial Broadcasters (and, Potentially, Noncommercial Ones Too)

The FCC this week released a Public Notice announcing comment deadlines on rulemaking proposals relating to the FCC Biennial Ownership Reports. The first set of proposals deals with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued earlier this month, proposing a series of changes to the process for filing these reports. The proposals include a requirement that the all persons with attributable interests in broadcast stations get a unique FCC Registration Number (an "FRN"), which will require filing their Social Security numbers with the FCC. The second proceeding is one released in 2009, but is only now being published in the Federal Register triggering the comment deadline. This proposal suggests that certain nonattributable owners be identified and reported on these Biennial Ownership Reports despite their nonattributable status. Comments on these proposals will be due on February 14, 2013, with reply comments due on March 1, 2013.

The Biennial Ownership report, in its current form, was initially adopted in 2009.  The new reports were to gather information not just about the ownership of broadcasters, but also about their race, ethnicity and gender, so that the FCC could get a better handle on the presence of minority owners in broadcasting.  The first report on the new form was to be filed in November 2009, but that deadline was pushed back to July 2010 when issues with the new form developed.  The second Biennial Ownership report was to have been filed by commercial stations in late 2011 (two years after the original date), and the next is due later this year.  The information in the first two reports was compiled into the information that formed the basis of the FCC’s December request for comments on the impact of proposed changes in the multiple ownership rules on minority ownershipContinue Reading FCC Seeks Comments on Biennial Ownership Report – Seeking Social Security Numbers From All Attributable Owners – and Some Who Are Not

The new FCC Form 323 Ownership Report is now available in the FCC’s electronic filing system.  Thus, after many delays, licensees can prepare and file the form that is due from licensees of commercial broadcast stations by January 11.  The Commission also reminded broadcasters that it will be conducting a Tutorial on the new Form on Wednesday, December