In an order released last month which has not received much attention, the FCC clarified its requirements for the filing of Biennial Ownership Reports. Much of the order deals with fixes to the report itself that will, for the most part, make the completion of the report administratively easier in terms of the physical data that needs to be entered into the form. However, certain new information-collection requirements call for broadcasters – both commercial and noncommercial – to start gathering information now from their attributable owners, including members of their governing boards, in order to enable the completion of the forms when they are next due to be filed, on December 1, 2017. We earlier wrote here about the FCC’s proposals in this proceeding (including the dazzling use of acronyms for various kinds of identification numbers assigned to attributable owners).

One of the principal purposes of the Biennial Ownership Reports is to gather information about the ownership and control of broadcast stations that will allow the FCC to slice and dice that information to use it to make decisions about issues like minority ownership in broadcasting and the concentration of broadcast ownership and control. Thus, the Biennial Reports gather information about race and gender of those with attributable interests in broadcast stations, and also about the interests those interest holders have in other stations. As we have written before, there have been complaints from some who have tried to analyze the information collected in the Biennial Reports that the data cannot be easily manipulated, particularly to track the ownership and control of individuals across multiple companies. Partially, this was attributed by the FCC to the failure of applicants to be able to get from all of their attributable owners information necessary to obtain an FRN (FCC Registration Number). That FRN was to be used to uniquely identify each holder of an attributable interest and track those individuals or entities through all of their media interests. In the past, there had been concerns that some interest holders were reluctant to provide the information necessary to get an FRN. The FCC has tried to remedy some of those concerns, and backed up their remedy with a suggestion that they will sanction interest holders who fail to provide the required information.
Continue Reading FCC Order on Biennial Ownership Requirements – All Broadcasters, Commercial and Noncommercial, Need to Start Collecting Information from Attributable Owners and Directors for Next Year’s Filing

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 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

The new FCC Form 323 Ownership Report is expected to be available in the FCC’s CDBS electronic filing database by Wednesday, December 9, according to a Public Notice released by the FCC yesterday – so that commercial broadcasters should have a month to prepare the form in time for the January 11 filing deadline.  As we’ve written before, the form and filing deadline have been much delayed as the Commission struggled to work out kinks in its electronic filing process.  In the Public Notice issued yesterday, the Commission also announced that stations can file their ownership reports on the new form even if each attributable owner of the company has not yet received an FCC Registration Number (an "FRN"), which requires the provision of a Social Security Number (for individuals) or a Taxpayer ID Number (for business entities).  Seemingly, the FCC has recognized that there has been much consternation among shareholders, officers and directors of broadcast companies about providing their Social Security Numbers to companies in which they have interests to in turn be provided to the FCC so that an FRN can be obtained.  So that licensees can have more time to deal with these issues, the provision for a temporary FRN has been adopted.  The FCC Public Notice also indicates that the FCC will host a workshop on December 9 at 2 PM Eastern time to help the public with issues as to the filing of this report.

The Social Security Number issue has perhaps created the most concern about this new form.  While the allowance for the temporary FRN will take some immediate pressure off broadcasters, these temporary numbers should not be viewed as a permanent reprieve from obtaining FRNs from all attributable owners.  The Commission in the revised Questions and Answers on the Form 323 makes clear, the temporary FRN for those holders of attributable interests in broadcast stations is a temporary measure.  Licensees are cautioned that they should use their best efforts to obtain these numbers (or to have the attributable owners, on their own, register for the FRN).  Even if that cannot be accomplished by the January 11 deadline, the licensee has an obligation to keep trying and to amend its filing when it finally obtains the required information as to the permanent FRN of each person or entity holding an attributable interest in the company .  The FCC seems to leave the door open to enforcement actions if a licensee does not obtain that information in a reasonable (though not defined) period of time.


Continue Reading New Form 323 Ownership Report Expected to be Ready This Week – And FCC Provides for Temporary FRN Without Social Security Number