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?

The FCC Form 323 is now available for filing by all commercial broadcasters.  The Form must be submitted by December 1 of this year.  In 2009, the FCC adopted the requirement for a biennial ownership report for all commercial stations, to be filed by November 1 every other year, with information accurate as of October 1.  In 2009

Are you ready to file your next license renewal application?  It seems like the last license renewal cycle just ended (in fact, the last cycle is not over, as evidenced by the fact that the FCC in the last week has released several decisions dealing with late-filed renewals from the last cycle, and many TV stations still have license renewals that have not been granted due to pending indecency issues).  Nevertheless, a whole new cycle of Form 303 license renewal applications will soon be upon us – beginning in less than a year. The cycle begins with radio stations in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, who are due to file their license renewal applications on June 1, 2011.  Then, every two months thereafter, stations in another group of states files applications, until April 1, 2014 when radio stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware bring the radio renewal cycle to a close.  Television station renewal applications will be due on a state-by-state basis beginning one year later – starting with TVs in DC and the same three states in 2012.  A schedule for the radio renewal filings is available here.  With these deadlines almost upon us, what should stations be doing now to get ready? 

In the last renewal cycle, the biggest source of problems dealt with public file issues.  Remember, stations need to certify in their renewal applications that their public file is complete and accurate and, if it is not, to specify areas where there are deficiencies.  In the last cycle, many stations in particular had issues with Quarterly Programs Issues Lists that were missing from the files, in many cases incurring fines of $10,000 or more where there were many such reports missing from the files.  These reports are also very important, as they are the only required official records to demonstrate the programming that a station broadcast to serve the public interest needs of its service area.  If that service is ever challenged, you will need the reports to demonstrate how your station’s programming met the needs and interests of your city of license and the surrounding area.  Check out our last advisory on the Quarterly Programs Issues Lists, here.


Continue Reading FCC License Renewal Application Cycle Begins in Less Than A Year – What Stations Should Be Doing to Get Ready

The long-delayed revised Biennial ownership reports (about which we last wrote here) for commercial broadcast stations, on the new Form 323, are due on July 8, and the FCC is in the process of clarifying what it needs.  The Commission just released a Public Notice reminding broadcasters that the report is supposed to be detailing station ownership as of November 1, 2009 (when the reports were originally supposed to be filed).  Yet, in the 8 months since that date, many stations have changed ownership.  Is a new owner supposed to get the old owner to complete the form?  What if the old owner is off somewhere on a cruise, or simply wants nothing more to do with the station?  The FCC’s Public Notice clarifies (to some extent) what to do in that case – indicating that stations in that situation can file a waiver request, detailing why they can’t provide the ownership information for the owners who held the station license on November 1, 2009, and asking that the FCC waive its rules and excuse the filing of a report for this particular station.  This obligation to file the waiver request is on the current owner.  Note that the FCC does not say that it will grant all such waiver requests, and it specifically excludes from these waiver situations "pro forma" assignments or transfers, i.e. ones where the actual control has not changed but the legal entity holding that control has changed such as in a corporate reorganization where a station license is moved from a parent company to a subsidiary, or from a corporation to an LLC which is controlled by the same individual. 

Another looming issue may also create issues for the July 8 filings.  A group of state broadcast associations and broadcast owners has asked the US Court of Appeals to once again put the filing obligation on hold until the FCC justifies the information that is being collected.  Last week, the Court asked the Commission to justify its requirement that each person with an attributable interest in a station (i.e. anyone who would have to be reported on the Form 323) obtain an FRN (a unique identifier) which can only be obtained by furnishing  a Social Security Number.  While this may indicate that the Court is concerned about forcing every investor and officer and director of a broadcast company to provide this information, even if the Court forbids the collection of that information, it is possible that the FCC would move forward anyway with the Form 323 filing obligation – just removing the FRN from the required filing.  So don’t count on the July 8 deadline being pushed back – start preparing now to be on file by the deadline.


Continue Reading July 8 Filing Deadline for Commercial Broadcast Stations Form 323 Ownership Report – Clarifications Issued

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

In a truly eleventh-hour decision, the FCC released an Order late Friday evening suspending the filing of FCC Form 323 Ownership Reports that would otherwise be due on Monday, June 1st for certain broadcast stations.  In its recent Report and Order adopted in the proceeding devoted to Promoting Diversification of Ownership in the Broadcasting Services

The FCC this week issued fines to two broadcasters for issues in connection with the ownership of their stations – in one case the fine was issued simply because the broadcaster did timely not file three consecutive FCC Form 323 Biennial Ownership Reports .  In the second case, the fine was for not requesting FCC approval for a transfer of control of the licensee of the broadcast station.  These cases serve as a reminder that broadcast ownership is closely regulated by the FCC, that broadcasters need to report that ownership once every two years as required by the rules, and to seek approval before any change in control of any company that holds an FCC license.

The station that failed to file the three ownership reports was fined $6000.  As disclosed on the licensee’s license renewal application, the licensee had not filed 2001 and 2003 ownership reports at all, and filed the 2005 report late and did not put it in the station’s public inspection file.  Biennial Ownership Reports on FCC Form 323 must be filed by the licensees of AM, FM and TV station licensees once every two years, on the anniversary date of the filing of their license renewal applications by all licensees except where the licensee is an individual or a general partnership of natural persons (as opposed to a partnership that contains corporations or other business entities as partners).  We regularly send reminders to our clients about the filing of ownership reports.  For more details on the requirements for the biennial filing, see our advisory for reports that were due on August 1 here, and see our schedule of broadcast filing dates for the remainder of 2008 to see if your station has a biennial filing deadline this year). 


Continue Reading Fines for Broadcast Ownership Issues – Remember to File Biennial Ownership Reports and to Seek FCC Approval Before a Transfer of Control

Affected Stations:  

  • Radio Stations in Michigan and Ohio
  • Television Stations in Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia

Just a reminder that by June 1, 2008, radio stations in Michigan and Ohio, and television stations in Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah