Yesterday, we published an article talking about an FCC public notice extending all filing deadlines that fell between January 8 and February 7 (except those dealing with auctions and other activities of the FCC unaffected by the government shutdown) to February 8. The article also mentioned that the FCC gave stations that had not been
The Federal government shutdown that we speculated about last week has now come to pass, and the clearest evidence is that, when you go to the FCC website, you are greeted by a special message essentially saying that the website is not available until after the shutdown ends. So, as we speculated last week, broadcast (and most other) applicants can’t even begin to prepare applications for filing when the government reopens, as the Commission’s CDBS database (as well as there other systems for filing electronic applications) is not available. Nor can you even access information about pending applications, pleadings that have been filed, or any of the other detailed information that is available on the FCC’s usually informative website. You’ll even note that links to FCC actions contained in many of the posts on this blog will not work, as the documents to which they link are resident on the FCC website. Similar notices are on most other government agency sites like, for instance, the Copyright Office site.
What is a broadcaster to do when they have an application or other deadline that falls during shutdown period? Stations sales will no doubt be closed, stations will be constructed with license applications due to be filed, there are license renewals that were due yesterday for radio stations in the Pacific northwest, Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific territories, and other pleadings and filings that are either now due, or will become due if the shutdown persists. One of the few documents that is available on the FCC’s site is a Public Notice on the Procedure for Filing in the Event of a Lapse in Funding, which provides a minimal amount of information about what is next. Beyond saying that the FCC is essentially closed, the notice does say that filings due during the shutdown would be due the day after the FCC returns to normal operations. The notice gives the example that, if funding is restored on a Monday, the FCC would return to normal operations on Tuesday, and filings due during the interim would be due on Wednesday. The Notice also states that, if there are issues restarting the electronic filing databases after the government reopens, further public notices will be issued, which presumably could further extend filing deadlines.
The buzz in Washington this week is about whether the FCC and the rest of the Federal government will be open come next Tuesday, October 1. October 1 is the start of the FCC’s fiscal year, and without a “continuing resolution” (Congressional authorization to keep the government running at current levels even without a formal budget), there will be no authorized funds to run the government, and there will effectively be a shut-down of all but “essential” government services. Even if Tuesday’s deadline is averted, the government faces another potential shut-down of some of its functions in the middle of the month (apparently by October 17) unless there is a vote to raise the Federal debt ceiling. As attempts to repeal the new health care law are being tied to the legislation necessary to fund the government, many think that there is a real possibility that we will see a shut-down for the first time in almost twenty years in October. What would such a shutdown mean for broadcasters?
While the FCC has not yet issued a plan for a shutdown, such plans are beginning to be seen at other government agencies. So, while we don’t know for sure what the FCC’s plans would look like yet, we can look at the plan issued in 2011, when the government last came within hours of a shutdown. We wrote about that situation here. Basically, most all of the FCC’s workforce would need to go home, and could not perform any functions while the government is closed. Thus, there will be no construction permits issued for new or improved stations, and no grants of other pending applications – including assignments and transfers – meaning that sales of stations would be in limbo for however long the shutdown lasts. FCC officials could not travel, so they could not attend any broadcaster conventions or other meetings that may have been planned. And, in most other shut-downs (or in shutdown planning), the Commission’s staff was not even allowed to voluntarily do anything related to their official business – so they could not answer emails or phone calls from home, or travel on their own dime to anything related to their official functions.